Tag Archives: TAKS

One Problem WIth Testing

I spent last week in writing classes with students who didn’t pass the EOC test.  What I learned: the STAAR writing exam is definitely better than TAKS; however, as long as the test is the one factor that matters over all others, our public education system is broken.

When I was in school–I know…a long time ago–we started learning how to write all the different types of essays in 4th grade. We built on that foundation every year. By 8th grade I could write any essay given to me, and I had no problem differentiating what I was being asked to write. High school essay writing was about becoming a more sophisticated writer. We didn’t focus on one type of writing over all others in any of those years. We focused on writing. All of it.

Today’s teachers don’t have the luxury of teaching everything they know needs to be taught in a school year. They have to focus on everything a testing company says must be taught in a year, and that focus leaves huge holes in students’ overall education.

I hear politicians say “If we’re teaching the test, at least we’re teaching something,” and I wonder where they went to school. I can count on one hand the bad teachers I had in 13 years of public education. All of them would’ve been bad teachers, regardless of the test. All but one of them would’ve met the standards of teaching to the test. But man we were bored in those classes.

I see great teachers today who consider getting out of the teaching business because it’s all about the test. They’re not able to practice their craft.

I don’t think the test needs to go away, but the way we structure everything around the test needs to change. Until that happens, we’ll continue down the road to the ruination of public schools.#

*****

I’ll be back with vacation pics tomorrow.

 

RIP The Week That Was Wasted

Dear students,The anti-education
I’m sorry. I’m sorry we wasted your time this week. Sorry you had to sit and wait and wait and wait while your peers finished the exam that takes everything else you do in school and belittles it. Sorry you’ve been brought up in the generation of test, test, test where teach, teach, teach means nothing unless it culminates in Commended.
I’m sorry I had to look at you and say “no talking, no questions, no, no, no” unless, of course, your question was could you read a book when you were done.
I’m sorry I had to break out the teacher look when the entire class was done within 90 minutes, and yet you had to sit silently for 4 hours in your perfect little rows of 5X5, facing forward in classrooms covered in butcher paper so you wouldn’t actually learn something.
I’m sorry the politicians we elected listened to business owners and testing companies instead of educators about how best to ensure you are learning.
I’m sorry I didn’t stand up earlier and say enough is enough.
I’m sorry I didn’t educate your parents on what the test-only culture was doing to our classrooms.
I’m afraid now I might be too late. But I won’t be silent, and neither will most of your other teachers.
Something has to change. I’m sorry it won’t change in time to make a difference for you.
And, yes, I realize the test is done. I realize that you’ve been brought up in a culture that says the test is all that matters. But, dear students, that is wrong. And while the test is done, class is not.
I’ll see you Monday. I might not be able to recapture a week of lost learning, but for the next four weeks, we’re going to learn without the pressures of the test. Hopefully, the teacher look can be put away until next year’s week of no, no, no. No learning, no questions, no real answers other than A, B, C, D.
If you’d like to bring a book for downtime, AWESOME. I have some suggestions for you, and our library is fantastic.
Perhaps we’ll have a wake for the week that was wasted.

A Plea From a Teacher

Dear Texas State Legislators, Governor Perry, SBEC members and TEA officials,

My name is Mary Beth Lee, and I’m an 18-year public education veteran. From the time I was 15, I’ve never wanted to do anything but teach. I love teaching. I love to watch my students engaged in real learning, in problem solving, in learning the tricks to time management. I love watching the light bulb moment when they “get” a new concept. I love how they’ll try and try and try something, failing miserably time and again, until they get it right.

I love the excitement of a job well done and presenting lessons and integrating technology into my classroom. I love the idea of collaborating with fellow educators to make my school the best it can be and providing life-long learning opportunities inside and outside the classroom for my students.

But I’m not writing this letter as a form of praise for a job well-done.

I’m writing because I’m furious. I’m furious at the expense of tests, and I don’t just mean dollars and cents. I spent an hour watching a slide show on how to give a test this week. How to create a seating chart, how to show time, how to actively monitor a classroom. Later this week I attended a session explaining what exactly my students will be required to do to pass this test, and I discovered the answer is take everything you’ve ever learned about successful writing… and toss it out the window.

In the 18 years I’ve been teaching I’ve watched the testing companies take over the education world. They drive our curriculum, they set the bar, they make billions of dollars off the idea of education reform. And yet, for all their billions, and the bars they’ve supposedly raised, there have been no measurable gains in true academic achievement. In fact, Fortune 500 companies and universities across the country complain that we’ve raised a generation of kids with AMAZING self-esteems, who can’t problem solve, think creatively or write in a way that effectively communicates their thoughts. We’ve raised a generation who can bubble in test answers like none other, but when they’re given an assignment without step-by-step instructions, they freak out.

The other day a friend told me her 4th grade niece cried all night the night before her test last year. She was terrified of failing. I’m sure her teacher cried all night, too.

I don’t understand. I’m all for real education reform. I’m all for saying let’s encourage schools to set up systems for student success and academic achievement. I’m all for measuring data and collaboration. But these tests we spend billions on have done nothing good for education.

I went to school in the era before the test. I had my fair share of lousy teachers, but more often than not, my teachers were dedicated professionals intent on seeing me succeed in the classroom. The test has changed NOTHING. We still have lousy teachers who need to be counseled into new professions, but most of us are constantly seeking to do better, be better, inspire our students to academic achievement.

I realize the testing companies love to tell you how we’re behind the curve when it comes to education. That’s hogwash.

No other country educates every student, no matter what, for free. Quite honestly, I’d put our top students against any other country’s top students any day of the week. No other country says if you’re willing to work hard you can do anything regardless of your mental starting point. No other country can boast the numbers of people we see on a daily basis who’ve built million and billion dollar corporate empires from the ground up. Our spirit of entrepreneurship and our commitment to democracy have always been building blocks of this nation, and that was the case before tests ruled education.

My fear: tests will kill that spirit and commitment because both of those require the ability to problem solve, think critically and embrace creativity.

YOU have the power to change this.

Educators do not.

Please, I’m begging you, do something about this. Don’t let our children continue to suffer the mindless monotony of bubbled in answer documents and No. 2 pencils. Put tests back where they should be: tools to measure but not the be all end all of our public education system.

Sincerely,

 

Mary Beth Lee

Rider Journalism

The Problem With Testing….

Most teachers are amazing at their jobs. Simple fact. I know it’s hard to believe in the face of all the “bad teachers are ruining our country” politicking out there, but it’s true.
The thing is most teachers are teaching to a test right now. Not because we want to but because we’ve been told we have no choice.
I’m not against a test. I think it’s a good idea to have a checks and balances at the end of the year to see how kids are doing. I think it’s a good idea to have a set of standards your supposed to cover. The problem is politicians have embraced the idea that the test holds all the answers.
The test was supposed to “fix” public education. Unfortunately, that’s like going to the doctor because you’ve been diagnosed with cancer and having the doctor pull out the stethoscope and saying “all better now.”
The test is a diagnostic at best.
It’s not a cure.
REAL education reform is hard. It’s messy. And it takes a lot of time and planning and hours of teacher input.
Real education reform isn’t a test.
Real education reform is measured in multiple ways.
Real education reform needs to be developed and implemented by teachers and championed by politicians.
But for now, education reform is eduspeak for a new, more expensive set of tests that will continue us down the path to mediocrity.

From Work Today, Love it!

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses
the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my
teeth, so when I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard
about the new state program. I knew he’d think it was great.

“Did you hear about the new state program to measure effectiveness of dentists
with their young patients?” I said.

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I said. “They will just count the number of cavities each
patient has at age 10, 14, and 18 and average that to determine a dentist’s
rating. Dentists will be rated as Excellent, Good, Average, Below average, and
Unsatisfactory. That way parents will know which are the best dentists. It will
also encourage the less effective dentists to get better. Poor dentists who
don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

“That’s terrible,” he said.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to
improve children’s dental health in this state?”

“Sure I do,” he said, “but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practicing
good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I said. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work
with the same clientele; so much depends on things we can’t control? For
example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived
homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle class neighborhoods.
Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children see me until there is
some problem and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also,” he said, “many
of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much candy from an early age,
unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and
decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have well water which is
untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference
early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses,” I said. I couldn’t believe my dentist
would be so defensive. He does a great job.

“I am not!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as
good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going higher than a lot of
other dentists because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red and, from the way he was clenching and
unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try
furious. In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below
average, or worse. My more educated patients who see these ratings may believe
this so-called rating actually is a measure of my ability and proficiency as a
dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients.
And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I
attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it
is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “Complaining, excuse making and
stonewalling won’t improve dental health… I am quoting from a leading member
of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee,” I said, “a group made up of mostly
laypersons to make sure dentistry in this state gets improved.”

“Spare me,” he said, “I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he
said hopefully.

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure
good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated and time consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and
you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This
can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The state will help you some.”

“How?” he said.

“If you’re rated poorly, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help
straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me
how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had
much more experience? Big help.”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and
teachers on an average score on a test of children’s progress without regard to
influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like
that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think
of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

“I’m going to write my representatives and senator,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy- surely they
will see the point.” He walked off with that look of hope mixed with fear and
suppressed anger that I see in the mirror so often lately.

One Size Fits All Never Works

The reality is tests aren’t bad. Nor are they good.
Tests are instruments to be used in the collection of data.
It’s a major problem when they become the be all end all of education. Or when they’re seen as potential saviors of a system believed to be failing.
It’s what’s done with the data that counts, and it’s how we get that data that matters.
If students spend all their time working toward mastery of the test, we end up where we are now with everything in education decided by a number on a test made by multi-billion dollar businesses with lobbyists working to keep the test the all-mighty of edu-speak.
The test that has resulted in students who college professors universally say are far less prepared for post-high school work that the students who made their ways to higher academia before the test.
But it’s not the test’s fault. It’s politician’s fault and those in charge of education who want easy answers when there are no easy answers to be found.
Our nation is changing.
Poverty is on the rise. Homelessness is running rampant. Immigrants who speak languages other than English and special needs students are in every classroom.
On top of that major budget cuts are shaking our very foundations.
A test can’t help educators figure out solutions to those issues. It can only measure data.
Other countries educate their best and brightest. We educate all students. And then we come under fire when our numbers don’t match up.
This week several states have announced they’ll be awarding merit pay based on a test average. If this becomes the norm, on what exactly will we be awarding merit pay? Is a true master teacher one who is lucky enough to teach the best and brightest students who easily ace the skills deemed worthy of inclusion on the test? Or is a master teacher one like Sandra Scheller? Sandra was my mentor when I started teaching 16 years ago. For years she’s voluntarily taught seniors who’ve never passed the test. If the students show up to school and work with her, they’ll pass. It really works. I taught the test class once and used her curriculum. My students passed, too.
However, that IF part of the equation is a pretty big deal.
Often, seniors who haven’t passed the test are in that position because of truancy issues.
A test can’t measure that.
Sometimes the seniors are in that position because they don’t speak or read English. Sometimes they’re in that position because their mother OD’d in the car they were using as a home when they were freshmen, their dad is a meth head and somehow they’ve ended up caught in the prison of drug use themselves, and they want to get out, but the euphoric forgetfulness of one more high is better than facing the reality they find themselves in day after day after day.
She was one of my students. She failed the test. I saw her a few years ago working at a local grocery store. She was clean, she was healthy and she was going to the local community college. She didn’t graduate from high school. She didn’t pass the test. But she said thank you to me and thanked God for all the teachers she’d had over the years because they were the reason she wasn’t dead.
Again, she didn’t pass the test.
But she sure was educated.
And that education doesn’t amount to anything if all that’s measured is the pass/fail rate on a one size fits all test driven education.

Figuring It Out

I understand the idea of the test. If you’re new to this blog, the test I’m talking about is TAKS soon to morph into STAAR.
I went to school in the 80s. I had the teacher we called “Boring (insert last name starting with B here).” I aced his class. Every day we walked into the room, picked up a worksheet and wrote the answers, typically simple vocab, while he read the newspaper at his desk and told us to shut up. In ninth grade, my physical science curriculum consisted of rewriting the book in spirals and watching World War 2 films every Friday.
The problem: I’m not sure the test stops that kind of behavior. The move to a more rigorous STAAR won’t either.
This book I love called Whatever it Takes compares standardized testing to an autopsy. It says the real challenge schools have is getting involved in the process BEFORE the autopsy.
That’s a thought I can get behind 100%. Only the involvement has to be something OTHER than a test.
The simple fact is, and every bit of research proves this to be true, a test is false reassurance that education is better than it was in the past.
So what can we do?
1. Master teacher critiques. (not administrator. Admins are great. I LOVE mine. But they’re managers now, and most have been out of the classroom for too long to relate. PLUS, anyone can put on the dog and pony show of quality teaching for an announced admin eval.)
Two of the best teachers to ever instruct at my school have moved elsewhere. Anne Patterson is in Highland Park. Sheila Curlin works for a company that helps AP teachers become better AP teachers.
Both should have been in other classrooms helping teachers become better. And their classrooms should’ve been open for observation.
That observation should have been MANDATORY.
Curlin and Patterson could teach teachers more about excellence in the classroom in one lesson than 30 hours of post graduate work.
We have teachers like them on campus still, and we’re not alone.
2. Lesson Plans…and not those silly little papers we fill out with objectives listed. Real plans. With scaffolding. Plans that show how over the course of a unit we will measure student understanding of objectives (not by a test, but by formative assessment. NOT paper, not Scantron, not something created and billed by a multi-billion dollar businesses run by men who have no idea about real education.).
Instead these assessments are found in real discussion, in debate, in playing devil’s advocate, in creative projects. The list goes on.
The plans don’t stop there. They end with teachers looking at the results of their work, looking at the successes and failures and making changes as necessary. AND documenting those statistics and plans.
3. Team Teaching. At least teaming for those students who need extra help. How much more would a student learn if their English, history, science, social studies and elective teachers were using the same over arching idea then covering their subject area. EX: The Olympics. In a social studies class students could cover the history and geography and human element of the games. In math they could do anything from measuring distances/engineering ideas/body mass/mathematical equations that show who wins and/or loses, etc. In English students could study literature from ancient Greece and Rome or even study media reports from the WW2 games or 1987 games. They could compare and contrast games now compared to their origins. They could research. They could write, really write, based on facts and evidence and something other than a cute or touching two-page story about a time they met someone who changed their lives. In science they could study Physics, Bio, Chem, A&P starting with the Olympics.
Take that to art. 2-D and 3-D work that starts with the Olympics focus and spirals out. At the end of the unit, the students totally understand the Olympics, and the concepts they’ve learned have been reinforced from class to class to class. True learning has taken place. Learning that transcends a test.
An awesome master teacher friend of mine used to teach Art History. She always had tons of kids pass that extremely difficult AP test. She always used literature and history lessons while teaching art, and her kids were able to understand art’s place in time and culture because of the spiraling of curriculum to curriculum to curriculum.
This kind of teaching can ultimately be measured by a test, but the test doesn’t drive the curriculum.
The kind of education above isn’t easy. It cant be simplified to pass/fail. It requires real collaboration, not just a few words on a piece of paper, not hours and hours out of a school year sitting at a desk with a no. 2 pencil, a test booklet, answer document and certified educator acting as test administrator instead of a qualified professional who has spent YEARS learning the craft of teaching.
I read once that REAL education change won’t happen until we quit trying to change students into widgets, nuts and bolts. I believe that. I hope others do, too, before it’s too late.

An Open Letter to the Texas State Legislature

Dear Texas State Legislators,
Thank you so much for your concern for public school education. A few years ago, I applauded you for your determined decision to require students to take 4 years of math. At that time, you wanted the final math to be Calculus or better. I asked then how many of you had passed a Calculus or better class in high school. You didn’t respond.
A few years ago I sat in a meeting with other teachers extolling the virtues of TAKS, a test we wouldn’t “just be teaching.” But you somehow proved me wrong. Thanks so much! The same testing companies that drove education budgets in the TAAS era, drive the education budget for TAKS, and soon-to-be STARR. They say the test is essential for real education to take place in the classroom. I guess they’ve said it often enough that it’s fact…even though there’s no data to support that claim. Data? What’s that matter anyway? Sure, we have passing rates on the test. But what exactly is that measured against? I’m not sure drop-out rate qualifies since dropping out lands a student in jail today. College profs say students are less prepared for college than ever (but they’re just gripy). My students can’t spell (it’s secondary on the test, so that’s okay), write in cursive (it’s not on the test, waste of time), have no clue how to write a five paragraph paper (not on the test, who cares?!), look at me with blank faces when I say defend your position with evidence from the work (evidence? what’s that? can’t we just make it all up like we do on the test?). They can write a narrative essay…sort of. They have “voice”…sort of, but they have few technical skills. What they CAN do: ace the test. Great self-esteem booster. It’s going to make a world of difference!
And thanks for developing such a strong relationship between Texas and testing companies. Maybe when teachers get laid off in a couple months, they’ll know where to seek employment! That is AWESOME!
It’s so great that you and the governor have explained that you’re not dipping into the rainy day fund. You’re right. This multi-billion dollar deficit isn’t an emergency. Teachers just need to suck it up. More kids in the classroom? No big deal. Pay cuts? Shoot, we get paid too much already! (Teachers are just whiny. I know. After all, we get summers off, what more do we want?) Besides, I know you’re all so busy with that whole guns on college campuses thing. You are so right. I loved the movie Tombstone. More gun battles are just what we need to keep things interesting. Especially with that whole Mexican drug cartel thing going on. (scratch that. I forgot. It doesn’t matter because that’s Mexico and has nothing to do with us.)
I just wanted to touch base and say thanks so much. You are doing the best you can. Oh, if you see the governor, tell him his hair is looking good. It probably won’t move when he’s out in the March wind when all those teachers show up in Austin March 12. But that’s okay. We won’t make fun of him for that. We’re not that petty. Plus, unlike that state trooper a few years ago, we know who he is.
Sincerely,

(This is a satire. It’s something my students rarely understand these days. They used to. But it’s not on the test.)

STATE!

Two qualifiers this time: A 6th place in News and a 1st in Features!
My feature writer plugged up our power strip and it started smoking.
THEN while we was writing, the computer shut down randomly. Twice. The first time she hadn’t saved.
Somehow she kept her cool. She told us she was crying on the inside. 🙂
In the end, she earned that gold medal!!!
We’ll be in Austin in a week and a half. Woo Hoo!

Decided not to get an iPad. I’m going to wait for the next generation.
I think I’m going to get a Wii and a Wii Fit Plus. And I’m going to do weekly blog updates on it. I’ll add a Wii page to the blog.

It’s TAKS week. I’m excited. For the first time, I’ve been doing science TAKS tutorials during my classes for the last week and a half. Its the only TAKS my kids have failed. Hopefully this helps.