As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…
Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.
I read Karl Fisch’s great post over at The Fischbowl about the word “accountability” and how too many in education erroneously equate it with using standardized testing to justify educational actions and decisions.
It got me to thinking how this current phenomenon often has educators, sometimes myself included, pinned in the corner of “all standardized testing is bad.” This is an understandable reaction to the ridiculous, high-stakes, over-emphasized testing of today. When one feels they are under attack, they take a defensive stance. Testing gives a snapshot of a narrow facet of skills, and while it shouldn’t be the focus nor the be-all-end-all… it isn’t completely useless.
After writing recently about my frustrations of the frequent pre-screening before the pretesting before the big test, it must sound like I’m completely backtracking. However, it’s the way the data is used that is important to examine.
Testing should be small, incremental, low-stakes, and personalized. If I have a student who is struggling, as a language arts teacher I should be able to request testing to indicate issues of fluency vs. comprehension to know how best to help him/her. It should be targeted and prescriptive, but this would require trusting educational decisions of professional educations, which is not what’s happening in the political scope of education right now.
Even the larger tests that level students in achievement ranges could be helpful if it were early in the year so teachers could use it to help inform their instruction for the year. However, it’s used at the end of the as a summary of what the student and teacher have “done right”. This, again, is a misuse of the data. It’s an autopsy when only a biopsy can help a teacher help a student. Also, inferences are being drawn from the data which does not measure what it’s being assumed to measure. (ie: “teacher effectiveness.”)
Therefore, high-stakes testing becomes the “goal”. Schools can’t test to see what they need to teach, they are too busy scrambling to teach what’s on the test that contains what someone else decided was important and another said it would carry serious consequences for the student, teacher, and school if some bubbles aren’t colored as well as last year. And consider what that these tests could never measure for just a moment…
Your doctor does not decide your heath on a BMI score or triglyceride reading alone. However, that small piece of data can inform a medical professional if its part of a larger picture. The problem is when non-educators in charge of education (which is a problem in and of itself) decide to measure the doctor’s competence by his/her patients’ BMI average (teacher’s test scores). This is a misuse of the data, and a ridiculous way to measure the doctor.
I have data about literacy – my students’ and own children’s – coming at me on a regular intervals; tidalwaves on the beach of what is otherwise a peaceful school experience.
For my own son, he came home with an mClass report with all little running men at the top of their little green bars – save one – and a lexile level that corresponds with a 3.6 grade level early in his third grade year. However, another letter says he’s been flagged as a “failing reader” based on the preliminary standardized test given in the beginning of third grade. This would have perplexed me if I didn’t already know how ludicrous it is to assess literacy of children with these frustrating bubble tests.
For my sixth-grade students, I have access to their standardized test data from the end of fifth grade – the ones with passages that are way too long assessing way too many standards and simply expecting way too much of the poor ten-year-old test takers.
We also give our middle schoolers quarterly timed tests on basic skills in reading and math. Based on these results, students are sorted into green, yellow, and red, with intervention plans written for those in the “danger zones”. Also, there are standardized benchmark tests at the end of each quarter to see if they are on track to attain a passing achievement level for the standardized state test at the end of the year.
If anyone counted, that’s seven tests during the year for students, including the “real” test. But not including any tests given by the teacher. (And that’s just for reading, don’t forget to then add in math. And science. And social studies… But I digress.)
I am not naive enough to think I am going to change the path we are going down right now, but I feel strongly that if we are going to make students do all this, I’d better find a way to make all the resulting data helpful to my instruction.
And therein lies another layer of my molten lava white-hot fury. What has been sorely missing from the dialogue in all these data-sessions is the next steps. Ok, Sally Sue is “red”. What does she need now? Or, even more frustrating, she passed one test, but is “red” on the other. So…now what? What do I DO for her? (You know, that I wasn’t going to do anyway? Like…teach her?)
Perhaps this oversight is because those who pushed this agenda only wanted to sell us all the screening tests so they don’t actually know what to do next? Or, maybe their answer is they want us to buy their scripted program to “fix it”, but we are all out of money?
At any rate, here’s where I am with this new normal. I need pragmatic (*ahem* free) ways to address all this conflicting data. What follows is a list of strategies I have to that end:
These have helped me in more than one “What are you doing for my child?” conference and to complete the required intervention plans based on all the data. I don’t know if they have revolutionized me as a literacy teacher, but I suppose
time scores will tell.
Not much to share today. Just my snarky pondering created on pixlr:
In my last post, I argued against the use of the current practices for gathering data for measuring growth and proficiency in literacy.
I suggested that for math, formative standardized test data is a biopsy. For literacy, it’s more like an autopsy.
And while the data indicates strong versus sickly readers, this information is usually no surprise to the professional educator, and more importantly it offers no treatment plan: advice on which medicine to administer.
With the release of my state’s scores re-renormed to the Common Core, there’s lots of focus on all the new data. What it all means. Why the scores are lower. How it will be improved.
And while the politics rage on, I have to explain to parents that their child simply went from twelve centimeters to five inches, and yes the number may actually be smaller, but I believe it to show growth in his/her reading ability.
And I need to take this new information and figure out how it should inform my instruction. I need the data to indicate a treatment plan for the literacy health of my students.
During my participation in VoiceThread titled “Formative Assessment and Grading” in October 2011, Dylan Wiliam said something that has always really stuck with me:
“One of the problems we have with formative assessment is a paradigm that is often called, “data-driven decision making”. This leads to a focus on the data, rather than on the decisions. So, people collect data, hoping it might come in useful, and then figure out sometime later what kinds of decisions they might use the data to inform. I’m thinking that we ought to perhaps reverse the ideas in data-driven decision-making and instead focus on decision-driven data collection. Let’s first figure out the decisions we need to make, and then figure out the data that would help us make that decision in a smarter way.”
~Dylan Wiliam “Formative Assessment and Grading”, Slide 5 [My emphasis]
I’ve pondered this at great length. If my goal is decision-driven data collection, what would I want out of a standardized literacy assessment? What do I want the data to tell me?
What else? What other information (as a teacher or as a parent) do you believe the data should provide about students’ literacy abilities?
Several years ago, an ELA colleague and I were presenting writing strategies to another middle school’s PLTs. The IRT’s office was in the PLT meeting room, and during a break between our sessions she remarked how she always had math teachers coming in to scan the results of their County required standardized test benchmarks immediately. However, she always had to chase down the language arts teachers to “make” them scan the bubble cards for the data. They’d given the test as required, just not scanned the cards for the results. She asked us what to do about it, and we sheepishly admitted we were often the same. Amazed, she asked… “Why?”
“Well, that data doesn’t really tell us anything we don’t already know.
Standardized data from the math benchmark practice tests tells our math teammates if students are struggling with decimals, or fractions, or two-step equations. In short, if students need more help…and if so, with which with specific skills.
The truth is…the data on these reading benchmarks tells us that since our AIG students score higher gifted readers must be better readers and our ESL students who are learning English don’t score as well on a test for…reading English.”
None of that is new information to any literacy teacher, and even if it were it doesn’t speak to how to shape his or her instruction. We are Data Rich, Information Poor. (D.R.I.P.) Analysis of that data does not help us see the path forward clearly for our students. Perhaps worse, it doesn’t necessarily even reflect the quality of instruction they’ve been given.
And while greater educational titans like Alfie Kohn have already explained the many problems of relying on standardized data for, well, anything, it is my contention that using it to measure English Language Arts, both for measuring teachers and students, is an exceptionally erroneous practice.
Standardized testing by definition is supposed to be an “objective” assessment. However, subjective factors such as beliefs and values
aren’t shouldn’t be separable from measuring literacy. While math is cut and dry (there is a right answer) interpretation of a literary work it not black and white. The students who can argue support for more than one of the four cookie-cutter answers – and do so in their heads during the test thereby often choosing the “wrong” one – are likely in reality the best readers. Disagreement on what an author meant by effective figurative language use or dissention in supporting different possible intended themes are not to be transcended in analysis and assessment of literature but embraced.
Am I missing some insight in interpreting formative standardized benchmark data? Is there some value here that I am overlooking? Please let me know in the comments!
This week, four more teachers on my school’s staff announced that they are leaving the classroom for greener pastures. These losses are in addition to the language arts department chair’s letter to Governor McCrory, a colleague from another school, and my PLT-mate of almost a decade who has already left.
These opportunities are well-deserved and no one who remains in the classroom could fault anyone for taking them. However, each one is the loss of an educator who daily and directly touched the lives of students. Those of us left in the pragmatic and emotional wake of their departure feel stretched and strained. They each will be missed dearly.
One of these fallen fellow classroom warriors, Trishia Joy Lowe, wrote the following of her classroom departure and has graciously allowed me to share it here with you.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Today, I leave what I have loved doing for nearly twenty years – teaching, NOT education, TEACHING. I put in my papers and am moving forward to a career in business as a Director in Growth and Public Relations.
It is bitter-sweet.
I loved the classroom when it was just My students, THEIR love of learning, and ME. That’s REAL, that’s AUTHENTIC, THAT IS ALIVE. I had an obligation to impart a passion for learning, not just grades. I took seriously my responsibility to build skills, ignite curiosity, and grow my students intellectually – to hold my students as accountable to their progress as I held myself – not merely to answer A-B-C-D or None of the Above.
However, too many outside factors have faded that beautiful reality, that “life all its own”, that love of learning in my students and in me. (Yes, I learned so much from those beautiful, honest little people).
Too many influences have robbed us of our ability to share freely, teach openly, assess each other honestly, and grow. Too many factors stand between me and my students as I teach – they have polluted what was once a pure process.
So, I’m waving the “White Flag”.
As I tendered my own resignation, I learned two more outstanding North Carolina teachers are leaving the classroom in my building. How many more teachers need to leave NC schools before parents understand there are highly trained, highly educated, highly intelligent, highly committed professionals who stand before their children each day, pouring everything THEY’VE got into THEIR children?
How many more skilled teachers need to leave before administrators “get it” and allow the truly “best and brightest” the autonomy to teach passionately without fear? To assess honestly for the sake of a child’s REAL growth without questioning from administrators as to our “judgement”?
How many more NC teachers need to leave before legislators just leave the professionals alone to do what they do best—TEACH?
(And by the way: a pay raise commensurate with that professionalism might be nice.)
Teachers have and continue to “fight the good fight” despite legislators, who, in many instances, are less educated, and less committed to people than their own pockets. Teachers’ pockets were emptied long ago, but they continue to teach passionately and courageously while digging deeper into their emptying pockets to buy supplies for their students and their classrooms.
However, the camel’s back is breaking.
What happens when the camel finally wanders off for a better oasis?
I wonder, what our children will be left with?
There’s been lots of discussion, here and elsewhere, about what the Education Budget will really mean for my state. However, I’ve recently learned some news that has made all of the politics which we have been discussing less a matter of an abstract ideal and more of a pragmatic reality. It has really provoked contemplation: a colleague and good friend is leaving the classroom.
Once our School Improvement Chair, she is leaving the field of education all together. My PLT teammate of almost a decade is going to become a corporate trainer and her last day is in two short weeks.
And she’s not the only one.
It seems everywhere I turn, educators with whom I teach or have taught are making the decision to leave the classroom for a rosier horizon elsewhere.
Apparently, this isn’t just localized to my school or county, either. Elsewhere in the state, I was flagged in the following facebook post by a NC high school science teacher discussing the frustrations of staffing her department:
Incidentally, I don’t know one personally, but can you imagine being a North Carolina principal or superintendent trying to staff a school in a county along the Virginia border right now?
Anyway, the conversation that followed this status update included teachers – amazing educators – stating how they are in a market for a new job, or how they are one of the few at their school not in the market for a new job, but only due to pragmatic details like how close they are to retirement, etc.
Educators whom I respect – some I had even hoped my own children would have in the classroom one day – are leaving. And not that I have any immediate prospects, but even if I were to get a job paying $100,000 tomorrow, it would not solve all of my own personal concerns. I don’t want my two children in a system where people are only there because they have no other options.
And, despite what’s being said in the media, that’s what’s really being created.
And while I can’t fault anyone looking for better horizons in the grim landscape that is becoming the classroom educator’s profession, I can tell you it is leaving a feeling of desperation behind. This is not the feeling you want amongst those educating your children. Or grandchildren. Or workforce you’ll need to hire for your business.
These politicians simply can’t keep saying they are putting your children first if they continue to put the state’s teachers last. The bottom line is that as more and more teachers set sail for that horizon, it will be the students upon whom the sun sets.
Monday, our State Superintendent June Atkinson released this statement with this opening line:
“For the first time in my career of more than 30 years in public education, I am truly worried about students in our care.”
Wednesday, the NC House and Senate approved the budget and sent it to Governor McCrory.
NCAE has a list of Top 10 Things Every Educator Should Know About the Budget and created and released this video about tomorrow’s final Moral Monday rally. Important stuff.
However, since the big picture data and powers-that-be have not seemed to slow our legislature, I thought this week’s post needed a different tactic. My department chair and colleague, Emily Blake, has written a brilliant letter to the Governor and is allowing me to share it here as a guest post on TSV. I’d hoped hearing from one teacher and constituent who voted for him twice would at least give the Governor pause. However, he already signed the budget into law Friday.
Since I was a little girl, I dreamed of being a teacher, and I have dedicated my entire life to realize that dream. I graduated top of my class in high school and summa cum laude at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. I am a fourth year teacher, a NC Teaching Fellow, and a technology contact and the language arts department chair for my school. I love the students I teach, have high growth in my EOG test scores, and work with some of the most dedicated and intelligent people in our state.
When I was first hired and was told my salary, I made grandiose plans to save $500 a month. After the first month of teaching, I had less than $20 in my bank account, and needless to say, nothing in my savings account. After purchasing supplies for my classroom, paying my student loan bills, and paying rent, I realized how little I actually made. Not to mention, my first year of teaching I did not leave school until the janitor set the alarm at 8:30 at night (which means that I was working 12 hour days). I justified putting my personal life and savings plan on hold because I felt like I was making a difference in my students’ lives.
While I still believe that I positively impact our future generation on a daily basis, I refuse to remain in a profession that is demonized by lawmakers. Two years ago we began using an evaluation system that logs in with our paystub numbers. On the evaluation, there are absurd standards that require me to care about my students and teach my curriculum. I would not have gone into the profession if I did not have students’ best interest in mind; I want my students to succeed and learn everything I can possibly teach them in 180 days. The budget that is likely to be passed eradicates my chance of tenure at the end of this school year which means I would have to prove every year that I care about my students and adequately teach them. I also have no hope of a raise, despite the rate of inflation. As a “professional”, that is a slap in the face.
I have watched my colleagues who are close to retirement break down and cry about how they cannot afford to retire with how little they make due to the lack of raises in the past several years. I can no longer rationalize the sacrifices I have made as a teacher in the state of North Carolina. I do not want to end up like my older colleagues who are burnt out, overworked, and vastly underpaid. At the end of this school year, I plan on leaving the profession in order to avoid that fate. Access to effective public education starts with qualified teachers, which will be difficult to find if these legislative trends continue.
In both the 2008 and 2012 elections, I voted for you as a result of your record and success as Charlotte’s mayor. I urge you to veto the budget and any other legislation that would once again make us the “Rip Van Winkle State”.
Last week’s post got an insane amount of attention and was even featured in the news:
It surprised me, to say the least. I spent the week mediating, reading, and responding to more comments than “Teaching Speaks Volumes” has received in its entire year.
The 176 comments thus far mostly fall into three categories:
1. Passion and Experience Passionate, dedicated educators (and some in college studying to be one) shared their experiences and articulated their frustrations. Also, those that understand our plight voiced support. It was clear that this post resonated with educators of all political walks, as I’d noted at the beginning of the post was holding true in the other discussions I was having. It’s worth the read – these comments were quite moving.
2. Political finger-pointing “Gov McCrory has only been in office for less than 7 months. It’s not his fault”.
Ironically, I’d be willing to bet it was the same people who get angry when President Obama’s camp brings up George W who made sure to point out how short McCrory has been in office thus far.
Both “sides” can make claims about how the other “side” did such-and-so “before they got here”. As I tried to articulate in the post: I don’t care to argue who created what portion of what mess; I care about cleaning it up. Can we all get on the same “side” please? The one with the American citizens’ best interests? Politics right now is so into being on sides with “winners” that it is our society’s future and the children who are the “losers”. The blame game is not helpful. We are where we are. And where we are sucks. Let’s just fix it.
Gov. McCrory and the current legislation are the ones tasked with the care of our state now. We address them not because they are where it all started, but because they are where we need it to begin to end. It is my fervent hope that a better understanding of teachers’ current frustrations, both from the data in the infographic and from the experiences witnessed in comments by educators, could help them make better decisions than we have experienced thus far.
3. Accusations of Greed “If you’re only doing it for the money, then go find the money. If you’re doing it because you like your job and you want to help kids, what are belly-aching for? They haven’t fired you, have they?” ~Actual commenter quote
Some comments provided excellent examples of the opinion pervasive in the public that makes this such an uphill battle for teachers: “If you really loved the kids, you wouldn’t be griping about money.”
It is this line of thinking that, while I can’t speak for all teachers, I personally find the most insulting and infuriating. It is as condescending as it is out-of-touch with the reality of our situation.
Wanting to serve the best interests of students
doesn’t shouldn’t mean we have no right to be able to provide for our own families. We are not expecting to get rich from what we do. We are wanting a living wage. It is increasingly impossible to be a teacher and afford life’s basics. Some can’t afford basic care for their own kids. We are college graduates – this should not be a poverty-stricken job.
Just how rich are we not getting?
I close with my latest easel.ly infographic where I explored that very question: