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Archive for the ‘Standardized test’ Category

I remember way back in split roadthe 70’s, I think it was Time magazine that came out with an article listing the most difficult jobs in America. I remember it because at the top of that list was the job of an eighth grade English teacher. Time based its list on the number of decisions an individual had to make on the job. Of course as an eighth grade English teacher I felt Time was 100% right in recognizing my contributions to society.

Contrary to what many uninformed critics might say, teaching is a very difficult and time-consuming job. Teachers need to balance relationships of family as well as their relationships with students. Teachers need to balance family time and preparation time for students. Teachers have also in many instances been scapegoated as the root cause of a perceived failing education system. Teaching has been further complicated because of the rapid change occurring each day in our computer-based, digitally driven society.

All of these factors affect every teacher in different ways. The overall effect however seems that many educators feel that they have a difficult job that they are dedicated to, but they are constantly coming under attack from people who don’t get it. Many teachers have to follow mandates that they find fault in. They are being asked to meet demands without being afforded the time or preparation to successfully accomplish them.

Innovation is loudly called for, but support and time to develop that innovation is barely whispered about. Accountability and evaluation of teachers are still subjective concepts in many schools making them a possible threat with less progressive administrators. Innovation and experimentation can be a perilous road for a teacher to take in this current world of education. Failure, although a very strong basis for learning, is still viewed by many as something that must not happen at any cost, especially in teacher evaluations. In order to deal with all of these pressures one answer is to rely on things that worked in the past. Teachers may rely on what worked in the past without objection. It worked before, so it should withstand scrutiny again. The elephant in the room is that if we shift the goal of education from enabling real learning to obtaining better, standardized test results than test review will trump innovative lessons.

Teachers need to resist hunkering down in the successes of the past. This will not provide our students with what they will need for their future. Our learners are different. Our tools for communication, collaboration, and creation are different. Our society is demanding skills from our learners that are different. The world in which we now live is different from when many of our teachers became teachers. Things will continue to change faster than ever before in history.

We as educators cannot take the safe path of teaching from the past. Innovation is important, even if it is not wholeheartedly supported by our system. Professional development should be prioritized for teachers to evolve as constant and continuing changes take place. Teachers need to personalize their own learning, because few schools will provide what is needed to evolve professionally. It is not a comfortable road to travel. It requires time, persistence and commitment. It will involve both failure and success. It will require leaving comfort zones that are the biggest obstacles to change. It will not happen overnight. It is a continuing journey that will begin with taking a first step. As teachers we need to develop in spite of the system, or that will become the very goal of our kids.

We cannot seek safety in our teaching of the past. It would come at the expense of our students. We need to be innovative in our teaching. We need to be relevant in our learning. The system’s lack of commitment to real, respectful, thoughtful professional development, collaborative time, and innovation may be a deterrent, but it should not be the excuse not to innovate. We have the tools and abilities to circumvent that system until it has time to catch up if it choses to do so. We can never let our comfort zones take precedence over our students’ learning.

If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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We often hear that the most influential element in a student’s life is the teacher. As an educator this can be both an honor and a daunting responsibility. It elevates the status of a position, often viewed by some as public service, to that of a valued mentor. This would all be well and good if education could truly be defined as it was for centuries in the past. Students were empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge of their teachers. If this were in any way true today, and a teacher was able to pour all of the knowledge contained in his or her head into the empty vessels seated in rows before him or her, the teacher would still not be imparting enough information for an adequate education in today’s world. Our world, as well as information itself, changes and evolves at too fast a pace. Teaching and learning are evolving and many of the old concepts no longer apply.

Unfortunately however, many politicians and some educators buy into this traditional model of what an educator should be, and base teacher evaluations on it. In many states a teacher’s evaluation will be predominantly based on how well his or her students perform on a standardized test. That test performance has de facto become the goal of education.

What makes all of this so complicated is that kids are not widgets. They are complicated. It may be true that a teacher may at times be the most influential factor in the classroom for some kids, but not for all kids, and not every time. Kids do not leave everything at the door of the classroom so they can have their vessels filled. All of their problems travel with them. The difference between kid problems and adult problems is that, hopefully, adults have learned coping mechanisms, but kids have not.

Teachers do not just address that part of a kid that is in school to learn. The whole child with all of his or her problems must be addressed. Learning, no matter who is the teacher takes a back seat to safety, hunger, health, and emotional stability. When it comes to kids we need to first address Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can get to Bloom’s Taxonomy. This is never a consideration in a teacher’s evaluation.

Kids today are entering schools after traveling through neighborhoods that might be considered war zones in some countries. Kids are coming from homes where education is not a priority at all. English in many homes is a second language at best. Kids are coming to school not from homes, but cars or shelters. Beyond the complications of urban poverty, we have large regions of the country experiencing rural poverty with different problems for kids, but the same results. Their problems and needs take precedence over learning in school.

How can we possibly assess and evaluate a teacher’s performance without assessing and evaluating each of his or her students? The tests that students are forced to take may be standardized, but the students themselves are not. Each student is different with problems that affect their ability to learn each and every day with varying intensity. That is what complicates learning and teaching. How can there be simple solutions with so many complicated variables?

To complicate things further for teachers, they must also deal with the red tape of shortsighted policies. Policies often put in place to address issues that have little to do with educating a child. Teaching involves dealing with the whole child and all of the complications that come with it; yet, we are told that a standardized test for all is the answer. It is the golden measure. It will tell us how much each student has learned and how effective each teacher was in teaching without regard for any other factors beyond the grade on the test.

With standardized testing and all of the curriculum materials and extras that go along with that making a BILLION dollars a year for a few companies, I fear it will be with us longer, but we have already lived with it for longer than we should have. We cannot however allow politicians to use these tests to decimate the teaching profession and public education beyond repair. Yes, we need to evaluate a teacher’s performance, but it must be done fairly and in consideration of what the job really requires. It can’t be done in a way that simply ignores what it is that teachers are being required to do every day they report to work. Teaching and learning have nothing to do with empty vessels. Politics and politicians however might better fit that description. Maybe before we can better educate our kids, we need to first better educate our politicians.

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When it comes to the use of technology for learning within our education systems there seems to be two different pictures of our current status. As a connected educator interacting online with many other tech-savvy educators, I see an image of a slow, but steady evolvement of technology-driven innovation in education.

As a person who travels the country engaging educators in conversation, face-to-face conversation, wherever, and whenever the opportunity arises, I get a very different picture. I see a status quo supporting a 20th century model of education with little professional development that is directed by districts to update their teachers. Too often I am getting stories of administrators discouraging change and teachers not willing to evolve beyond where they are. I am not sure how to get an actual picture of what education really looks like today when considering the branding, public relations, and political posturing that is a constant in the system. I do believe we have a distorted view of what education in the 21st century actually looks like.

Of course anyone reading this post will match it up against his or her personal experience to judge its accuracy, but I am not sure that is the total perspective needed to make that judgment. Few schools will stand up to say they support the status quo in education. They will point to whatever thread of innovation that exists in their school and portray it as the rule rather than the exception.

Of course the political climate in this country does not support innovation in education since standardization and high stakes testing determine status and funding for schools. Teachers needing to rely or survive on their students’ test results are hesitant to go beyond that which is required in order to retain their own livelihood. States attempting or succeeding in doing away with tenure leave innovative teachers dependent on the whim of politicians, vocal parents, or popular sentiment without regard for due process in matters of retaining a teaching position. That is hardly a catalyst for innovative change.

Most new ideas have more enemies than friends. Education needs new ideas and people who can stand up and lead those ideas over rather perilous roads to completion. For this to succeed we need to make sure educators are being exposed to the latest and best ideas for learning through professional development. Once they have the knowledge, teachers need to be supported in collaboration with others to refine, plan, and implement ideas. Once in place, time and support must be given in order to develop, assess, refine, and improve the idea. All of this takes time and time translates to money.

Money for education is rarely seen as anything but a problem. We fund education through taxation and that is a burden and also a rallying cry for politicians. If education were as much a priority as defense is, there would be no burden. Since education funding is political however, it will always be political and subject to the ebb and flow of popular trends, economic downturns, and popular myths. None of this supports innovation.

Innovation is change and most people are not comfortable with change. It requires risk. The bigger the risk, the less likely the change will occur. Couple this with the fact that most people want the best and most up to date education system in the world. We are left with some, if not most, administrators, the folks in charge, painting a rosy picture of innovation and modernization with whatever programs, small portions of programs, or even lessons their schools have to offer, giving the impression that it is system-wide.

Yes, there are some wonderful schools doing wonderful things with progressive education leadership and teachers who are supported with PD and time to do wonderful things. There are also schools that focus on the tests and maintaining what they believe the status quo provides stability and predictability to cope with required standardization and high stakes testing. Control and compliance for teachers, as well as students, are the proven commodities in these environments.

The question is where are we now, and when will we get to where we need to be? I tend to think we are not yet supportive enough of innovation. Support requires action, not just spouting off words. We need brave leadership to stand up to status-quo supporters. No, not everything from the past is bad. We need to determine what has value and what needs to be changed in a computer-driven society that looks very different from what it was in the 20th Century. Change is disruptive and a conservative institution like education does not tolerate disruption very well. We all need to look at education as a needed investment for our kids and for our country. An educated citizenry is our best defense for dealing with things we have not yet imagined. If we are to better educate our kids, we need first to better educate their educators.

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At a recent Edcamp on Long Island we had a very interesting discussion. Sessions at Edcamps are discussions as opposed to actual power-point presentations. The question posed by someone in the session on relevance in education asked, why are so few Long Island educators connected? This set off a discussion leading to the point that the mindset of teachers successful in the present system, is a belief that they need not change because whatever it is that they are doing, seems to be getting the needed results. Therefore, the better the results for teachers based on students’ standardized test scores, the less teachers need to change their approach, methodology, or pedagogy. Of course that would mean that the most “successful teachers” would need to change the least at what they do, and how they do it.

Of course this is all based on the fact that the results that we are looking for in students, and results that “successful teachers” are obviously producing are actually results that are good. Will they benefit students in the life that they will be living in world in which they will live? Here is my question: should we be basing the results of a student’s lifelong endeavors in an education system by a score on standardized test? Is that test really measuring how much a student has learned for what will be required to thrive in the tech-driven world in which he/she will live?

Of course this applies to more teachers in America than just those living on Long Island. In this environment of test mania once any teacher is meeting the needs of students to succeed on a standardized test, what is his/her incentive to going beyond that shortsighted goal for education? If a teacher is unaware of the need for kids to be digitally literate in order to be prepared for the world in which those students will be forced to live, than how will that teacher meet the education needs of his/her students? If the 20th Century methodology is meeting the needs of the 20th century goals what need is there to even talk about 21st Century learning, or 21st Century skills?

There is a very convincing argument to maintain the status quo. It simply requires educator’s jobs be linked to maintaining that status quo by connecting it to student scores. There are less convincing arguments for innovation, or even to have educators strive for digital literacy. We can hardly point to professional development, as we have come to understand it, since it has obviously not worked well over the last century. Most successful digital literacy today is self-directed and on going, done by educators seeking it. Too many districts, for reasons of a lack of money and time to do so, are not supporting proper PD. If districts were required to offer properly supported PD, it would be one more mandate demanding compliance of districts to add to the growing pile of required unfunded mandates plaguing our education system. This reinforces the fact that the best PD must be self-directed, on going and relevant.

It would seem that if educators are to see a need for change from the status quo it will need to come from their connected colleagues. These are educators who are struggling forward to maintain relevance in this tech-driven culture to prepare kids with the skills to do the same. These educators recognize the need to understand collaboration, curation, communication, and creation with tools that have never been available before, and will soon be replaced by other tools with more complicated operations. Technology evolves through change. None of this will ever take hold if we depend on a status quo mindset of many of our educators. Educators, most who are products of 19th and 20th Century methodology and pedagogy that served them well in their time, are often satisfied with providing the same methodology and pedagogy for their students.

During the lifespan of our students we have seen technology take great strides. The mobile device that was a phone became the smart phone. It is a pocket computer with vast capabilities, and yes, it also enables sophisticated phone calls. We have been introduced to the iPad and Tablet. Computers now enable cars to park and make emergency stops without driver intervention. Social Media has exploded changing our views on many things within our culture. If all of this occurred within the lifetimes of our students before they have even completed their education, what lies ahead after they graduate will only be more technology moving at even a faster pace. This is a pattern we know from history. As educators, it is our moral obligation to prepare our students for the world in which they will live, and not the world that we grew up in. That is too comfortable and easy for us, but it will not help our students?

So, why are some educators stepping up and directing their learning to adjust to what kids will need to know moving forward, while many others are content with the status quo. I do not have clue other than maybe some of what I have mentioned here. Each educator will offer his/her own reasons. These are not bad teachers. A good teacher does not need technology to be good, but a good teacher using technology can be better. We need better educators not just good ones. Our comfort zones are not more important than our student’s futures. I always say, to better educate our kids, we need to first better educate their educators.

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Have you ever been witness to a time capsule being opened?  If you are not familiar with such events it is very simple. People select items that represent their culture or personal lives, and place them in a container to be sealed up for a long period of time. After a few decades the container is opened up at some sort of ceremony and people look at what was the height of technology, and life, decades ago. I guess we older folks get to appreciate those types of events more than the younger people, because the items in the time capsule usually do not need to be explained to us, as they need to be to the younger generations. I guess the fascination with time capsules is dependent on the apparent and dramatic effect technology has had on the culture represented by the encapsulated items which were selected.

It is one thing to study and talk about how technology and learning has made great strides in the field of medicine, but it is another conversation entirely when one experiences finding blood-letting tools in a time capsule. It prompts a great conversation that is lost in a textbook version of such events. It usually elicits from the youth questions like “What the hell were they thinking?” Of course the field of Medicine has probably developed faster and in more directions than any other field. I used to do a presentation where I would show a slide of a 19th Century operating room, followed by a picture of an operating room of today. The contrast was inimitable. Since this was a presentation for educators I showed a picture of a 19th Century classroom, followed by a class of today. It was the laughter of the audience that was inimitable at that point. There was little change. The upsetting point here is that if I were to do that presentation again, it would probably still hold true for the slow change in too many American classrooms.

As I engaged some of my connected colleagues in Edchat last week, we were discussing how the education system pays lip service to asking for innovation in education and for teachers to be innovative, while at the same time putting in place policies and mandates to stifle any such notion a teacher might have.

I pointed out how we are supposed to be teaching our kids how to be effective, competitive, and educated in the world in which they will live, while using tools for communication, collaboration, and creation that will exist in their world.

One Connected colleague pointed out that there is one school, or it might even be considered an education franchise school, that prides itself in the fact that it teaches its students without the use of any technology whatsoever. I guess that school franchise really holds 19th and 20th century methodology in very high esteem. Many of us are products of that methodology, so I guess there is a comfort level for some. I do often wonder why an educator’s comfort level should supersede the real world needs of his or her students.

Looking to the past in education and creating my own mental time capsule, I remember when calculators were not allowed in schools. The slide rule was okay. I remember the blue spirits ditto machine with a hand crank. I remember real Blackboards. I remember fountain pens, the Osmiroid Pen in particular. I remember desks with inkwell holes in the upper right corner. Again I am an old guy and this was my past.

What would go into an education time capsule today? Maybe a “Cellphones Banned” sign. Possibly, Oregon Trail would go in. Certainly those four computers, covered with dust at the back of the room. Definitely we would include the overhead projector that is now 75 year-old technology. Maybe we should also consider putting “sit and get” methodology in the time capsule. Let’s include the idea of teaching in silos as a concept. What about adding the concept of desks in rows. Why not add the idea of a content expert at the front of the room filling the empty vessels of student minds? This might also be the right place for standardized tests. If we were to put all of these things into a capsule to be opened two decades from now, would we ever want to bring any of them back into the class? Maybe, Oregon Trail.

We need to reach out to those who are still teaching kids from the 20th Century perspective. We need them to commit to being learners again. Learning is ongoing and it must be a way of life for an educator. A relevant educator must continually learn to stay relevant. We can’t have time-capsule teaching in an ever-developing culture. At what point will we stop and look at what we are doing and say, “what the hell were we thinking”?

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I have written about why I feel Tenure is important and how it is used as a scapegoat for inadequate follow through on the part of many administrators in Tenure’s Tenure. I guess it comes as no surprise that I am appalled at the recent decision in California against Tenure.

Of course the statement that upset me the most came from the presiding judge. Judge Treu wrote, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently in California classrooms,” I do not know what defines a “grossly ineffective teacher”. I know how I might define it, but it would have nothing to do with standardized test scores of children. Even under my personal definition, I would think it would apply to an insignificant number of teachers, many of whom could be brought up to competent levels with properly supported professional development.

Based on articles that I have read since the judgment, the number of “grossly ineffective teachers” in the poorer districts referred to by the judge may have been made up on the spot by a conjecturing witness. Fuzzy Math: guesstimate that struck down California’s teacher tenure laws.

The fact of the matter is that a teacher’s role in a child’s education is very significant. It is not however, the sole influence on that child’s education. This is especially true of children in schools in areas of poverty. The unfortunate truth is that before we can apply Bloom’s taxonomy in many schools, we need to first apply Maslow’s Hierarchy. If kids are coming to school stressed because they are hungry, tired, undernourished, and concerned about their safety, there are no teachers trained well enough to convince those kids to put all that aside for the sake of schoolwork.

The issue with schools in poverty areas both rural and urban is not the teacher quality as much as it is the poverty itself. Poverty brings with it issues in schools that no amount of high-performing teachers can fix.  Teachers are beaten down in their attempts to teach in these schools. Toxic cultures have evolved as a result of fighting the good fight and being defeated by social prejudice, poor infrastructure, and lack of support. These are reasons for high turnover rates of administrators and teachers alike that are commonplace in schools in poverty areas. These are many of the reasons teachers do not actively seek positions in these schools. None of this failure has to do with Tenure. None of this failure has to do with a made up number of 3% of highly incompetent teachers.

Lets make up our own numbers and blame 75% of the do-nothing, ineffective and incompetent politicians who do not address the very issues of poverty that actually are the real reasons for schools in areas of poverty not performing in the same realm as schools in affluent areas.

The idea that teachers are the key to getting all kids thinking and learning at the same level of competence throughout the country is ridiculous. If we can’t even attempt to standardize the environments and conditions in which kids learn, how can we expect the results to be the same nation-wide?

Tenure is only a guarantee of due process. It is not a lifelong commitment. Incompetent teachers can be fired as long as we have competent administrators providing due process. Too often administrators blame the law rather than their inability to follow it.

Without due process teachers will serve at the whim of whatever politicians are in control. Whatever trend school boards, or state legislatures buy into could be thrust upon teachers to teach or else. If the school board is of the opinion the Earth is only 9,000 years old and wants that taught in the schools, who could stand up to that at the risk of loosing a job? If books are banned by a board, who stands against that? If policies are changed in favor of budget over safety who advocates for safety?

Without due process in times of economic considerations, teachers who earn the highest wages are considered the biggest liability. Being an economic cutback is hardly a just reward for years of service. All of these factors do not create a profession that would attract and maintain the brightest and best this country has to offer. Doing away with due process is the best way to weaken an already shaky profession. Half of all teachers entering the profession leave before the fifth year. Some of the most successful and experienced teachers are leaving for consulting positions after years of teaching. The very reason many of the most experienced leave is the current atmosphere of teachers being vilified, and not even involved in discussions of reform. The profession needs to attract more and maintain what it has, and not drive people away.

Rather than talking about easier ways to eliminate teachers, why not find better ways to teach, support, and maintain them. Why not focus efforts on affecting the hard things to fix, the things that have a real effect on education and learning. Poor schools are a symptom of poverty, not the other way around. Let’s deal with poverty, as an issue and education will improve. Fixing education will come at a cost to us all and not just a cost to teachers. We can’t reduce taxes as we improve education. Great education is a long-term goal investment that, unfortunately, exists in a short-term goal-oriented society. Public education is what will keep America safe with informed citizens able to critically think, analyze, process, and create. We can’t afford not to support it.

Maybe, Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court should look at politicians who obstruct any programs to address the issue of poverty as an attack on education and an obstruction to “a basically equal opportunity to achieve a quality education”. This might have a more positive effect on education than attacking due process, tenure laws. To paraphrase or rather reuse the words of the judge, there is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective politicians currently in the California legislature rooms.

 

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I just finished reading a post from my good friend and co-author of The Relevant Educator, Steve Anderson. His recent post, “Why Formative Assessments Matter” got me thinking about assessments in general and how often they are misunderstood and often abused by well-meaning educators.

We have all been taught that there are two categories of assessment, Formative and Summative. Formative assessment is done during a particular lesson to gauge student learning and understanding as the lesson progresses. This often takes the form of quizzes, but there are less formal forms that are as effective. The summative assessment is usually, but not always an exam of some type. It is to determine how much the student learned and understood from the overall experience. This could be a unit exam with various types of questions, or possibly some type of report done by the student.

With my education students I would explain assessments with a cooking metaphor. As a chef prepares a meal he or she would taste it along the preparation process. Based on those tastings adjustments are made. Spices may be added. Cooking time may be lengthened. Some components of the meal may even be eliminated. All of this is formative assessment. This assessment is for the chef to read the results of his or her preparation in order to adjust for the best outcome.

The summative assessment has nothing to do with the preparation, and everything to do with the final outcome. The summative assessment happens when the diner experiences the dish by eating it. How successful was the preparation in the final outcome?

Now, how can such a simple concept get corrupted? Grades! We are all held accountable by some measure. We have determined that grades are what we will use to hold students accountable. We will measure their every effort to learn and assess it with a grade. I guess if the chef assigned a grade to the dish with every tasting and averaged the grades it would not be an outstanding average. But then again how can the dish be measured when it has not yet been completed in the preparation process. Similarly we hold students responsible for quiz grades on assessments, which were originally intended for the teacher to consider in order to make adjustments to a lesson. If the kids do not get it, is it their fault or could it be a shortcoming in the lesson? Yes, students do have a responsibility to bring something to the table as well, but the bulk of the responsibility lies with the teacher.

Grading formative assessments to measure students understanding makes little sense. They all learn in different ways and arrive at learning specific things at different times. To use formative assessment to grade a student is a misuse of the assessment. It is expected that some will get it others won’t, but that is for the teacher to understand and adjust accordingly. That is the purpose of formative assessment.

Of course grading the summative assessment might have some value, as long as the summative assessment is assessing the learning. Too many unit tests however are nitpicking questions for content recall. I guess that lends itself well to Scranton testing. We all know how quickly we can bang out those Scranton test results. It is as easy as ABCD. Essays take too long to grade.

Of course not every teacher does this, but how many is too many? We need to better understand why we do things as educators. Often times the only reason for doing something is because that’s how others do it, or that’s the way it’s always been done.

If we better understand how to utilize assessments, maybe we can better our delivery of lessons without penalizing kids for things that they have little control over. Formative assessment comes in many forms and none really require grades. Summative assessments come in many forms as well. We need to choose those forms that show what individual kids have learned overall. To aim for the low hanging fruit of content questions is missing the mark. They have their place, but they should not be the focus of any test.

This should be a topic of faculty or department meetings. These are the things that need to be addressed by educators more than the usual fare of such meetings. We need to better understand what we do, and why we do it as educators. We need to be more reflective and critical within our own profession.

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