Tales from the trenches: The testing debacle

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking....

I have no idea where this school is but I like their thinking….

It’s spring, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, (it is snowing in MN) this means testing season is upon us. If you work in schools or are a parent you probably are with me when I say I dread this time of year.

I have dealt with testing in the schools for years and may not enjoy it but have managed to survive it. This year at the elementary level it just seemed to be absolutely horrific.

It started with all online testing. The system was up, then down. They said stop testing, then start testing. Then emails came in stating to test if you aren’t experiencing any problems….We had students who were not able to pause their tests and therefore where clicking just to fill in the bubbles to get to the bottom of the screen to pause the test. We had trouble getting the system to pause for days. We called the help desk, repeatedly (and then some more). Some people who answered seemed to be very empathetic to our situation, others referred it as ‘glitches’ in the system.

Regardless, I want to know how in the world these tests results would be considered valid. We had kids crying and others  so frustrated with the starting, stopping, and issues trying to pause for breaks I just can’t imagine they were in a frame of mind to actually perform on the tests.

To that end, how can it be right to attach funding to tests that should at the very least be considered compromised due to the many MANY technical errors or ‘glitches’ as they called them???

I have witnessed our students tested on the state assessments, the NWEA MAP’s and now the DRA’s all within the last few weeks. Our poor students are tested too much. If only we could put our trust in the educators who already use diagnostic assessments like the NWEA”s and the DRA’s &  not mandate additional tests (which they don’t’ receive the results from for months….)

Students don’t learn anything from tests. They learn from passionate educators who know them and can help guide them through the learning process. I say, step out of the way and let teachers do what they do best-Teach!

 
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Walk a mile in their shoes…

Ah yes, it’s happened again. Never fails…someone asks a loaded question or makes a polarizing statement on some type of social media outlet and for some dumb reason I read the responses despite knowing I will soon be irritated. I know, I should just NOT read them but yet I am compelled to click.

What is it this time? Educational items..Yup, banging that drum again. A local news station had posted a question seeking feedback from their viewers as to whether or not cursive should be taught in schools. I know, I got sucked in just as they wanted. I didn’t plan to respond to read the other comments. 90% of the comments were what I would categorize as ‘ignorant’ and 10% put some thought into it and had some type of experience with the situation (i.e., students in school, children or in schools).

What really bothers me is how many people demanded that this ‘subject’ be taught in schools and even made comments on how schools have all gone down hill. Why is it that so many feel they know better than those in education? Spouting off that schools need to make time for cursive just as every other subject?? Complaining about what is or isn’t taught that has nothing to do with the original question…Everyone seems to feel they’d do a better job teaching. Everyone’s a critic right? 🙂

I know, I know, they feel they can give their 2 cents (or in many cases $20) worth of advice because it’s public education…but it’s so over played. The number of times a students has told me, “I pay your salary you know!” -Ug

One of the 10% who actually had some experience with education mentioned the national common core state standards. Yup, my favorite (insert sarcastic voice and eye roll here). And the response someone else gave was to add cursive to that list of standards!?!?! Really? Ha! As much as I would have loved to respond to the comments I didn’t. I need far more characters to do it and I can just imagine the back and forth comments that would ensue.

One of the comments pleaded not to judge until you’ve walked a mile in the teachers shoes and I must agree. I think the entire list of folks who commented have no clue who actually decides what is taught it schools nor do they understand there are so many hours in the day (and children’s attention spans are not very long).

My ‘Menne Thoughts’ on the whole comment craze:

  • Volunteer in a school: See what the days are like, what the kids are taught, what they actually retain and what they enjoy learning.
  • Talk to your local elected officials: I don’t care if it’s the local school board or a state representative. Talk to them to see what they know about what is being taught it schools and if they have visited any lately?
  • Talk to kids: Ask kids what they feel they are learning in schools and what THEY feel is important. Do they have time to play and be a kid? Do they enjoy school? Why or why not?
  • Judge not, lest we be judged: Think of what it would be like to be in a teachers shoes. Someone far removed from the classroom tells them what to teach and in many instances how to teach it. They have classes FILLED to the brim with students of varying abilities. (Many of the teachers are judged and compensated based on how well these students perform on standardized assessments. I know many people feel it’s just like a business. You have employees and you train them and you are judged on how well they perform. In education you can NOT fire (nor do teachers want to) students who don’t perform well. ) They have limited time during the day to get all of the mandated subjects scheduled and then the challenge of actually teaching them in such a manner that the kids can understand and retain the material. Oh, and it’s a plus if they can instill character traits and spark a love of learning.

In education we do the best that we can with the resources we are provided. We are under constant fire from many angles but we keep on keeping on. We are in the business of education because we care about kids. ❤

Board Games, Poker & Purpose

From the title of this post you can tell I have children who love to play games but then again don’t we all? Even when young children like to play games. Whether it’s memory, words with friends, or poker – games are fun and a great way to learn all kinds of things. Young or old we all play games and learn new ones. When learning a new game where do we start? Directions of course. You read the directions or someone else may explain them to you. We all want to know how to win the game. Put another way-what is the purpose of playing the game?

You may or may not have played the game LIFE and most likely read the directions. We are all a part of a much bigger game of life which really doesn’t come with a set of directions. In fact many people are constantly seeking to discover their own purpose. Why do we do what we do?

As a mother of 5 I am no stranger to questions of why and can honestly say that I try to give my children answers to their questions rather than the “because I said so” line which we have all heard. As a teacher I heard the same questions only applied to different items. Rather than, “Why is the sky blue?” I heard things like, “Why do I have to learn this?” And sometimes when testing time comes around, “Why do I bother reading the questions if I don’t even know the answers?”

Students are no different than us-they want to have a purpose. They may ask “Why do I have to do this assignment?” Is the purpose to this assignment to put a score in a little square in a gradebook? Not very motivating in my mind. There should be a bit more contextual information provided here. How about finding out what that student would like to do with their life? Once you know that one you can work backwards to find more purpose in their path towards that goal. (Increasing student engagement through relevancy and corresponding hope as well)

In their educational journey students have many ‘why’ questions. I think if we explored these questions a bit more we could really change what is happening at both the classroom level and the policy level.

High-stakes, standardized tests-Why? Memorizing dates, facts, etc.-Why? 7-period days/block scheduling-Why? Requiring all students to take certain classes-Why? Building schools with square classrooms, boards in the front, student desks in rows-Why? (We already know the history behind the factory model of education-but again begin the dialogue.)

If we start addressing students (and parents) ‘why’ questions we may start a dialogue to get to the bottom of these questions and possibly even ask a new question. Why not change it???

College Ready vs. Ready for College

Recently I read a tweet about the release of the list of ‘best high schools’. I was curious about who made the list but knew it wasn’t going to be the schools I would ever want to send my own children to. I confess, I clicked on the link and read the list as far as the top 20 at which point I was irritated. What put them on this list? Who decides this anyway? Why in the world I click on an article when I know darn well it’s going to get under my skin is beyond me? I digress….Back to the list. It included items such as teacher/student ratio and the percentage of students who passed exams which fell under the ‘college ready’ category. Student/teacher ratio-I get that and can get behind it. The more staff you have the better you can personalize for each students individual needs. Offering AP classes, AP exams and other standardized tests?? Now that one I don’t care for. Should the best schools’ graduate students with a great academic foundation? – Yes! But let’s think about this for a minute…College Ready? Does filling in the correct bubble on a standardized test make you college ready? Is that how we really want to define college ready?

During a recent conference I heard a great quote that I agree with, “Student achievement is more than test scores. It’s what students DO with what they know.” With that in mind, are students ready for college just because a they score high enough on a test to be labeled college ready? I don’t think so.

To be ready for college students need to have a strong foundational knowledge but more importantly they need to be able to do something with that knowledge. They need to be able to communicate that knowledge to others. They need to be able to have the motivation to get out of bed and go to class. They need to have the resilience to overcome obstacles that may get in the way. They need to have the persistence to continue to strive to achieve their goals even after facing multiple obstacles. Okay, I am sure you get the point now.

I understand the concerns people have regarding incoming college students taking remedial courses. Is it really THAT bad? After all, they did get into the college and are attending. What about the students who are labeled college ready and attend college only to drop out? Is it better for students to have extra debt from those remedial courses which may require them to graduate in more than the typical 4 years or for them to have the debt from college courses that never resulted in a college degree?

My thoughts: It is better to be ready for college and learn some things on the fly than to be college ready only to end up not completing college. After all, the learning is in the doing.

The Principals Protest

As an avid user of social media I tend to follow various news articles and trending topics so it is no surprise that I read the New York Times article on education entitled “Principals Protest Role of Testing in Evaluations.” This, as well as other articles, seem to dominate the tweets I was reading last week. After having read it I can’t say I disagree with the protest. If I was in their shoes I would be outraged as well. (Then again, that is one of the MANY reasons I have chosen to leave the traditional school system for a different and more innovative public school system which allows for more autonomy.) Having said that, I find it ironic. The very same high stakes standardized tests were deemed acceptable to evaluate students but now that they they are proposed to evaluate the teachers and administrators there is a protest. Like I said, I don’t disagree that is is wrong to use these test scores to evaluate the teachers and administrators. I just wish this protest would have started years ago when the high stakes testing era began. We as educators and parents should have been protesting the use of high stakes standardized tests to evaluate the students. In my experience research shows that test scores predict future test scores not what kind of person the child will become. Many kids score poorly on exams (for various reasons) and overcome the obstacles to become very successful and amazing people as adults.

Teachers and administrators shouldn’t be evaluated based on a snapshot of their students on one particular day and neither should the students. Students, teachers, and administrators should ALL be evaluated with a more comprehensive approach.