Tag Archives: Race to the Top

Vol.#85: Toil & Trouble

As testing season soon approaches, visions of #edreform dance like sugar plums in teachers’ heads…

Bubble Bubble

Just one of those that’s been dancing in mine.

Carry on.

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Vol.#78: Never The Destination

accountableI 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. 

TL; DR:

Education Haiku

VOL.#57: Open Letter to Senator Tillman [GUEST POST]

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 7.39.47 PM
Image Credit: flickr user theparadigmshifter

We have discussed the North Carolina General Assembly’s systematic dismantling of NC education from our unacceptable frozen salaries which rank us dead-last nationally over the last decade to the growing mass exodus of NC teachers. 

Are we being heard?

Senator Jerry Tillman [R] is the chair of the Educator Effectiveness and Compensation Task Force. They meet again tomorrow, Monday, April 14th to make their recommendations to the NCGA.

Please contact him and have your voice heard.

One of the great educators from my digital PLN, Pam Lilley, has done just that. She forwarded me her letter, and when asked agreed to let me share it here with you.
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Senator Tillman,

I am a school library media specialist in Cornelius, North Carolina. I have always had a keen interest in politics in general, though lately my interest has become more focused in the area of educational policy because, obviously, those decisions affect my career, my children’s education, and my bank account.  

As a citizen and mother in North Carolina, I am gravely concerned about the rapid exodus of teachers leaving North Carolina for higher pay in other states.  While I recognize that there are highly qualified teachers such as myself (all “accomplished/distinguished” per this year’s evaluation) who consider North Carolina their home and teaching their calling and refuse to wave the white flag, I completely understand why teachers are leaving at higher rates.  Last summer, in my frustration with the legislation that was passed removing teacher tenure and once again denying teachers a cost-of-living adjustment or step increase, I started a blog to archive teacher resignation letters:  www.resignnc.org Obviously, most teachers don’t go out in a blaze of glory like this and instead leave quietly, not to burn any bridges in case the situation ever does improve here.  But for those brave teachers willing to speak up about why they were leaving, I wanted to create something of a time capsule to the period in which we find ourselves.

Recently, I began thinking about how much this moratorium on teacher pay is costing teachers out of their paychecks.  I appreciate that people such as yourself are trying to come up with a system that you believe teachers such as myself (accomplished/distinguished) will prefer because there is the opportunity to earn more.  I saw from Mr. Baxter’s presentation last week at the task force (via Twitter) that the current salary schedule is over 100 years old.  Indeed, something that old justifies a closer examination of its relevance to the profession of teaching in the 21st century.  The question I keep coming back to is this: if we were to poll every school’s “teacher of the year” or those teachers who got the highest performance evaluation at each school, what would they say?  Obviously, they’re the ones who stand most to benefit from a new pay structure that recognizes and rewards their work.  Yet, I am friends with hundreds (literally) of teachers, many of whom HAVE been teachers of the year at their school and nobody is interested in a model that pays some teachers more than others based on performance and it boils down to the argument I’m sure you’ve heard before: effective school-wide teaching depends on collaboration.  When only so many teachers or a certain percentage of teachers can qualify for the higher pay, that creates a competitive atmosphere.  And if the state were to say that there are no caps and that any teacher who meets or exceeds a proscribed set of criteria gets additional pay, it’s quite likely we would see a replay of the ABC bonuses wherein the criteria was met but the money wasn’t there.  And that gets to the core of the issue: just as legislators clearly do not trust us to do our jobs, we do not trust them to pay what is promised.  You can see this playing out now with the 25% contracts.  Only the first year of the 4-year contract bonuses are funded.  Teachers do not trust that the money will be there beyond that. (Though, obviously, our concerns about those contracts run deeper than the lack of funding).

In the meantime, teachers are making less many than they did 5 years ago.  In fact, I took the time to create a blog post about this a few weeks ago and it’s generated quite a bit of traffic so far: resignnc.org/five-steps-back  I wanted to share it with you.  I am a teacher with 14 years of experience.  I have a master’s degree (required for my position) and national board certification (an experience which truly did make me a better teacher).  I am making $2560 less than a teacher with my EXACT credentials did in 2008.  Over the past five years, I have lost a total of approximately $15,000.  That’s the cost of a new economy car.  That’s a year and a half of tuition at my son’s preschool.  That would pay for 4 years of the Duke TIP camps that my daughter qualifies for but cannot attend because we can’t afford it.

I recognize that these numbers are based on the salary schedule that you and others feel is antiquated but right now it’s the only pay structure we have.  And it’s the salary schedule we agreed to when we signed our contracts years ago.  We have held up our end of the bargain but the state has not.  We recognize that in 2008 the state entered a deep recession and when our pay was frozen the first year, most of us were grateful not to have been furloughed.  But this year when the state cut revenue that could have been used to help teachers in order to instead help the wealthy and corporations, the trust between teachers and legislators hit an all-time low.  And that is why any proposal for a hastily-prepared new salary structure will not be well-received by teachers: we have lost faith that the legislators are doing what’s best for us or for our students. What would it take to open our minds and hearts to something new?  An act of good faith on part of the state to restore our step increases and get our base pay up to the national average.  Then we will know their money is where their mouth is when they say they value education.

Until then, I will continue to collect resignation letters and hope that enough qualified teachers remain to prepare my own children for the future.

Sincerely,

Pam Lilley
Cornelius, NC

Vol.#52: NCLB

Not much to share today. Just my snarky pondering created on pixlr:

demaNding

Carry on.

Vol.#43: Literacy Data

countsSeveral 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.”

Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi
Image Credit: Pixabay User Websi

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!

Vol.#41: The White Flag [Guest Post]

Image credit: Pixabay user Goemedien

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.

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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”.
I surrender.
I leave.

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?

Vol.#37: The NC News Target

The North Carolina legislation’s actions are quite the target for national attention.

In an article titled, “NC Lawmakers Reckon With The Three Rs: Reading, Writing & (Tax) Reform“, Forbes discussed the recently approved NC tax plan:

“The sheer magnitude of the cuts will wipe nearly $700 million in tax revenue from the budget.”

The article goes on to explain how even those who are conservative and favor low taxes have grave concerns about how this tax plan will negatively impact schools. It’s a must-read.

Let’s see. What else? McCrory defended giving a pair of 24-year-old republicans on his campaign staff $45,500 more a year, meaning the pair is compensated to the tune of $172,500 annually. (This would buy 3.75 teachers a year at the $45,947 average salary in our state, which is $10,000 less than the national average.)  He states, “…that’s the pay rate for that job.”  Golly. *shrug*  What’s a governor to do?

WRAL wrote about how the Red for Ed movement is now extending into the classrooms. The website features a letter by Angie Panel Scioli, a Leesville Road High School Teacher, and a WRAL video about the Red for Ed movement, which asks that everyone wear red on Wednesdays in support of public education.

And if you don’t mind the salty language, Bill Maher also weighed in on what’s been going on in NC.

…as did The Daily Show.

And so, as I expect many experienced teachers may soon do, I recently priced my house on Zillow. Unfortunately, I learned it is worth only about $4,000 more than what we bought it for…over a decade ago.

*sigh*

So, I then channeled my frustration, anger, and disgust with the current state of affairs in my home state into yet another easel.ly project.

Enjoy.

TargetsTeachers
easel.ly

Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit

In April, our school’s benchmark results were emailed to the entire staff. When analyzing the language arts department’s results, my students’ projected growth – the percentage projected to meet their targets – was abysmal. I mean it. I was dead last.

Continue reading Vol.#2: Measuring My 2¢ On Merit