Tag Archives: testing

The Pilfering of Public Education

Another reason to vote for pro-public education politicians:

The pilfering of public education continues. Next week starts testing, where we will do what the state makes us do even though we know these tests don’t measure what testing companies and politicians and charter schools focused on test scores and the bankers that make big bucks off those charters say they measure. These are endurance tests where focus and the ability to sit for long periods of time will be rewarded even though those two things don’t tell us much about the future success of a student. These endurance grades will be applied to districts and schools this year. Next fall we’ll see the new crop of A-F grades. Schools filled with children who can sit, read, bubble and write for FIVE straight hours will earn an A grade. Good for them.

I’m not anti-test, but I am anti this monster our politicians have created.

A few years ago a new student joined my class in mid-October. She was confused about the focus on tests, the practice tests, the streamlined lessons built to the test, the classes for those who’d failed the test. Where she lived, no one ever talked about the test until the week before and then you took a two-hour test on a computer and went on with your day. She thought Texas was crazy. She’s right.

But schools have to do what the state tells them they must. So we will do this. Our testing coordinators have planned and organized and worked to make the process as painless as possible. We’ve been trained to actively monitor, read directions and say “I can’t answer that. Just do the best you can.” Administers are ready to walk through buildings monitoring constantly. The hall assistants have their Fitbits ready to count the steps. I think some of ours did 10 miles last year.

We will do this and we will make sure our kids know they are more than a test score. The testing company will earn its $70-$90 million they’ve been paid for this test year. And we will lobby the lege to change this nonsense. And it will go on and on and on UNTIL we vote for politicians who listen to educators.

The People Spoke, We Must Too

640px-Constitution_We_the_People

It’s no secret who I voted for, but I believe in The People. We live in a country where that means something. I know in 2011 educators met with Dewhurst and he listened. I know others did, too. I know when I wrote my blog post, A Plea from a Teacher that was viewed a bajillion times around the world politicians from all sides commented on it and sincerely wanted to hear back from me. The People spoke yesterday, and it was a resounding defeat for Democrats, but just like the R‘s don’t own Jesus, the D’s don’t own education. Don’t let an election stop you from fighting for the kids, the classroom and what we know is right. Education can not be a partisan issue now. If people let it become one, it gives the testing companies and their lobbyists more power. Most politicians are parents. They want what’s best for kids, too. They just don’t always know what’s best. They won’t ever know if we don’t speak up. Tell your classroom stories. Tell about how the cuts have challenged you as an educator (not just teachers), tell how testing affects your kids, educate the public. If we go around being angry teachers and parents all the time, those “reformers” sound like they’re on to something.

(Another cross posting from my Facebook wall. Sorry if you’re seeing this twice.)

Speak Up For Our Kids. They Deserve Better.

Educators, regardless who you voted for you have a responsibility to speak up about the travesty taking place in our public schools. The testing regime won, but they can change if we speak up for our kids. I know there were other issues than education driving this election. The Republicans were not always tied to Pearson and the billionaires funneling money into the state for for-profit charters. The Republicans don’t have to stay tied to Pearson, and they can thank the billionaires for their campaign contributions while standing up for public education. When Republicans joined forces with Pearson, they didn’t see the truth about testing. Teachers see it now. Teachers live it now. Students suffer through it now. If you are silent, you are saying this is okay. Do not be silent. Fight for our kids.

(Posted on my Facebook wall tonight. Some of you might see it twice because of that.)

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Diet Soda Helps You Lose Weight?

So tonight on the news I heard the beverage industry commissioned a study that ended up showing drinking diet soda actually helps people lose weight.

Funny how the reporter easily understood the problem with the study: it was paid for by the industry it was supposed to be studying. Throw the results out, people. This “study” was an ad.

WHY is it so hard to see the same thing happening with the over-testing we have going on in our schools? If the test makes things better, why are more college students than ever in remedial classes? Why have SAT scores stayed stagnate?

And who pays for these “studies” anyway?

 

King ISDee

Once upon a time, a long time ago, there lived a king named King ISDee. King ISDee wanted the best kingdom in the world. He wanted his people to thrive. He wanted peace and prosperity. His advisors were the best money could buy, always training apprentices to take their places over time so King ISDee would never be forced to rule alone.

One day a new merchant approached King ISDee’s advisors with a thought. The people King ISDee wanted to thrive were potentially troubled. While most were thriving as they should, a small percentage were struggling. King ISDee wanted all his people to thrive, not most. The merchant had a plan to make that happen.
A proven plan. A plan 9 out of 10 dentists approved. A state-of-the-art, new and improved plan.

BUT

The people would never participate if King ISDee didn’t require it, but if he would, the merchant guaranteed the best results ever.

The advisors listened to the merchant and told him they would take his plan under advisement. They did. They talked about it over small dinners, excited at the thought that they could possibly help King ISDee reach his goal of helping ALL his people thrive, thrilled at the idea of a proven plan to make that happen. The apprentices loved the idea. They wanted to go forward immediately. The sage advisors said they needed more time to look at the potential outcomes of the plan and to study the reasons for failure to thrive in Kind ISDee’s land of plenty. While they studied, though, they would meet with the merchant.

The merchant met with the advisors over time. At the meetings he heard about the excitement of the apprentices and asked if some of the apprentices could spend time with him, learning the ins and outs of his new plan. The advisors agreed that would be a wonderful idea. They planned a dinner, but the merchant told them he had made arrangements for an elaborate feast at the best restaurant in the kingdom. The advisors could feast and debate and look at the details of his plan without worry. The advisors thanked the merchant, but they declined his invitation. They could not feast for fear the merchant’s generosity would affect the outcome of their debates.

The kindly merchant understood. He told them the feast was already paid for and would still take place, but no one had to attend. Perhaps the advisors would stop by for a snack…or not. The choice was theirs.

The advisors thanked the merchant and sent him on his way with an apprentice.

The apprentice loved the merchant from the start. The merchant cared! He wanted to make the world a better place! He wanted ALL of Kind ISDee’s subjects to live lives of beauty. The merchant loved the apprentice from the start. He understood the message, the meaning, the world that could be!

Together they planned how to convince the advisors to hear the plan. How to reform them!

The apprentice invited his friends to the feast. A few advisors stopped by for snacks. They all agreed the merchant’s plan could be an easy answer to the persistent problem of the few who failed to thrive. They’d spent so many hours trying to find HARD answers when the easy answer was right here with the merchant. But the few advisors knew they could not convince the majority of the advisors to agree to the merchant’s plan. The majority had decided an easy answer was no true answer. They insisted on continuing the HARD work of problem solving.

The merchant scoffed. The few failures! King ISDee could not continue to leave them behind.

The advisors snacking agreed. But what could they do?Wringing their hands and shaking their heads they left the feast.

The apprentice had an idea. They would bypass the advisors and go straight to King ISDee.

The merchant loved the idea.

King ISDee listening to the merchant in horror. What?! He had a few failing to thrive in his kingdom?! When there was a proven plan that would save them?!

He called a special session with his advisors and took them to task.

The advisors explained that the majority were strong. They were excelling in all areas. But the few strugglers were affected by sickness, death, hunger and homelessness. The few could be helped, but it would take time. It would take true intervention in their lives. It would take an investment. Perhaps a master advisor could go to the area and make a change.

King ISDee thought of the plan. Yes, perhaps it could work. But first he wanted to speak to the merchant once more.

The merchant listened to the advisors’ solution and shrugged. Yes, the investment COULD work. But why when he had a PROVEN plan that would work better, faster, cheaper?

The king called his advisors in and asked them for advice. He found some of his advisors liked the merchant’s plan. They had feasted with the merchant and even helped him revise his plan. After much discussion, he informed the advisors of his decision. He was going to purchase the merchant’s plan.

Twenty years later…

King ISDee shook his head as he looked at the latest report on his kingdom. The report provided by his oldest master advisors warned of trouble. A few in the kingdom thrived, most simply existed, many failed. The report made no sense. He held up a different report. One given to him by the merchant. It showed most in the kingdom thriving. It blamed the few failures on advisors who refused to implement the plan. He railed against his advisors. Fewer now than ever, they trembled in the angry king’s presence. But they believed in their calling. They had appointed a speaker. The speaker stood and swallowed then spoke.

“King ISDee, perhaps the answer is to visit the people. Put the reports aside. Spend real time with them. Look at the reality of the situation instead of the report.”

King ISDee considered the advise. He heard his advisors. But in the end he held up the proven plan. “The data supports this conclusion,” he said.

And he continued to rule his shrinking kingdom with an iron fist and the merchant’s plan. And the few who failed to thrive grew into the many. And the advisors died…one by one until none were left. And then one day King ISDee took his last breath. And the merchant pretended to mourn while the apprentices placed a gold crown upon his head.

A rail against standardized testing pre-K and Kindergarten

I’ve been reading a lot about the push to test pre-K kids. We already have standardized tests for kindergarten and first grade. All I can think is pre-K kids should be taught not to hit each other just because someone takes your toy, not to wipe your snotty hand in your neighbor’s eye and to (please!!!) wash your hands after you potty. It seems like pre-K would be about learning and story telling and using real words and fun NOT bubbling. In kindergarten I played a lot. I learned about “stranger danger.” My kindergarten teacher would’ve actually liked standardized testing, I figure. She threw my color page away because I colored the people purple. She told me people weren’t purple. I tried to explain about the purple people eater, but she still tossed the paper. I think she might be running the show over at Pearson these days. In first grade I learned to sing the National Anthem, Yankee Doodle Dandy and Oh Susannah. I also learned how to read, but not until late. I was the only one in my class in Minnesota not reading. A test didn’t tell my teacher that I couldn’t read. A book did. And she didn’t test me to get me to read. She taught me to read using vocabulary and phonics. As far as standardized tests go, in elementary and junior high we had a national norm test. I sucked at math and rocked the reading and writing. Senior year we were a test for the exit level exams that were to come, but those tests were about making sure you didn’t graduate if you didn’t have a basic skill set. I wonder what’s wrong with all these politicians that they keep buying into the idea that testing babies is a good idea? I mean they made it to political office. They get a great pay check and great insurance. They learned to share, to be polite (okay, maybe not), to keep snotty hands out of their friends’ eyes and (hopefully) how to wash their hands after they paid a visit to the potty. They might have even colored purple people for purple people eaters. They read and they are usually eloquent speakers. They made it through the gauntlet of higher ed, often with advanced degrees. Most are my age or older, which means they did all this without testing, and they did it all successfully. Does anyone else wonder about this?

 

The School Board Speech, A Little More and Why I WIll Always Fight for Education Based on Something Other Than Tests

Original title: Hey, Bill Gates, Reform This #EvaluateThat BUT then I thought, that’s preaching to the choir and this post isn’t, so I changed it…

Since it’s been in the paper, I thought I’d post my actual speech to the school board. I’ve added some comments at the end. I would’ve said a little more at the meeting, but that pesky 3-minute time limit got in the way. 🙂 The payoff for this post is at the end. I might be a little too honest with it, but honesty is what can bring true change. (If you read the TRN story, you can skip the speech part because Ann Work pretty much summed my words up perfectly.)

The speech:  My name is Mary Beth Lee. I’m the student media adviser at Rider. I’ve taught in the district for 20 years. I enjoyed participating once and then serving as a teacher leader in the Leadership Cohort. I have served on the Superintendent’s advisory committee several times. I’m a member of ATPE. Several of my former students serve as teachers in the district and elsewhere.
First I want to thank the board for their service. I can’t imagine volunteering the time you do in easy years and I certainly can’t imagine serving on the board in the midst of such massive change. I appreciate the board and downtown administration. Unlike so many politicians across the country, you haven’t blamed teachers for the problems in our schools.
I’m speaking today as a teacher and a concerned citizen. In the midst of the talk about buildings, I want to make sure the board remembers buildings don’t educate students.
As the Coalition for Hispanic Education report stated, the district is in the midst of huge change demographically. More than ever we need seasoned teachers in the classroom.
When I started teaching our buildings were filled with experienced teachers. My friends who signed up for jobs in the Metroplex were jealous of our career ladder that started far above state minimum and continued with its guaranteed raises that included a little extra on the five-year marks. They were even more jealous of the help mentor teachers gave us without being asked.
New teachers are so important to education. But I’m concerned that as a district we’re not doing enough to keep teachers in the district, to build loyalty to the community.
We need teachers committed to the district and the city. Teachers who won’t use us as a stepping stone to a bigger pay check.
There are several things the district can do to help promote life-long Wichitan educators.
First, it’s been shown several times over the years that guaranteeing pay raises doesn’t cost the district money. Because of attrition and moves pay raises for educators who commit to the district is a wash.
When the legislature cut funding to schools, every teacher I know agreed that we should all share in the pain of those cuts rather than see quality educators lose their jobs. Those lean days aren’t so far in the past that we don’t understand the need for austerity, but I sincerely hope the board is looking at ways to make sure teachers are rewarded for their commitment to the district.
Second, I hope the administration will look at ways other than a set career ladder to recruit and keep teachers. Finding a way to reward master teachers with continuing contracts would help in that endeavor.
I don’t have all the answers, but I do know we’re facing a real crisis in this town. Wichita Falls is changing. The school district can help. They can ensure we hire and retain excellent teachers. They can make sure our buildings have depth.
Yes, we need new facilities, but without a staff committed to the district and the city, facilities are like wrapping paper on an empty box.

Now the more…

I don’t think teachers should get automatic raises just for teaching. I think we should have a career ladder with clearly defined raises and expectations for getting those raises that center on TEACHING not TESTING. Expectations like multiple CE hours, pre-lesson objectives complete with what we think will happen and post lesson analysis over what really did happen. What problems do we see with the lesson? What could make it better? Truly studying our craft in action, and make no mistake, teaching is a craft. That’s what a test-centric system misses completely.

The rest of the story…Why the Fight Matters

When I hit ninth grade I developed this weird social anxiety problem. I couldn’t really talk to more than a couple people at one time unless they were really good friends OR unless I was wasted (I didn’t learn about how freeing alcohol could be until junior year. I was a pro pretty quickly after that). I don’t like to remember those days. High school wasn’t easy. I wanted to love it….but…yeah, not so much.

Thank GOD for my small group of friends and my amazing teachers.

My math teacher practically held my hand through every lesson in Intro. Algebra. He helped me see that my problem was a mental block, and he promised me that one day I would conquer the fear instilled by an evil monster of a teacher in junior high. If my test scores had been held against Mr. Brown, one of the best math teachers to ever grace a Burkburnett High School classroom, that would have been criminal. I wasn’t the only one in his class with math problems. He taught classrooms full of us. The best part of this story other than him being an angel is he was right. I would never go around solving equations for the fun of it, but I took the self-paced Algebra classes at Vernon Junior College, and I survived. And that evil junior high teacher that traumatized me so much I could barely see straight in math classes after…he taught most of the star students. He would do GREAT under the merit pay system that considers standardized test scores as the be all, end all.

My American Lit teacher, Mrs. Bo…probably the best English teacher to ever walk the earth…she made me LOVE literature. She taught me to write. She didn’t make me talk in front of the class, but she let me know that one day I’d be able to.

My eighth grade English teacher was brand new. I can’t remember her name, I think it was Ms. Reed,  but I wanted to be her when I grew up. She taught me research skills I used from eighth grade all the way through my MA in English. She changed my life with her passion for education and her absolute belief in me.

My journalism teacher Mrs. Gillespie helped me discover my passion and held me to a higher standard than I ever held myself. As a teacher now, I know she had to see me making those scary life choices and she had to be worried. But she didn’t hold the choices against me. She never judged me. Instead she showed me what the world could be.

And then there’s Dencil Taylor. He taught my college speech class. He told us all he knew we were terrified. I don’t figure I was the first person he’d run across who could barely whisper in front of a class. He made it clear we WOULD give our speeches, that we had no choice if we wanted a degree. I wanted a degree, but talking in front of five people terrified me. An entire class….oh God, that was torture. I had to leave class after my first speech to get sick. He told me I’d get over that. He didn’t coddle me, or let me make excuses. He made it clear I could drop his class, but I’d just be putting off the inevitable. He let me think it was my idea to stick out the class. The class changed my life. Without it, I wouldn’t be a teacher, I wouldn’t have spoken at the school board meeting. I also wouldn’t be married to the love of my life. I met my husband in that class.

The above story would be a great place to end, but I can’t without a shout out to Dr. Hoffman, yet another teacher who changed my life. He helped me see that I was smart. That’s such a strange thing to write, but it’s the God’s honest truth. He and I have talked about that often over the years since I was in his Sophomore Lit class at MSU. Back then he just encouraged me to keep writing. I did. AND I kept taking his classes. AND when I finished my BA, he dropped an application off at my house to start my MA. And he didn’t really take no for an answer even though I wasn’t all that excited about going back to school. God, I’m glad he didn’t let me cop out of getting my master’s with the “I’m too busy” excuse. Those seminar classes helped me truly fall in love with learning. I definitely wanted the advanced degree, but more than that I wanted to know more, read more, write more, debate more, research more. That hasn’t changed.

NONE OF THOSE stories can be measured on a standardized test. I doubt seriously I would have graduated from high school if I would’ve had to pass a standardized math test, but I’d put my writing, reading comprehension and problem solving skills up against any politician, any test maker, any CEO in this country.

I WAS poor growing up. I WAS a mess growing up. I WAS the kid in the gap the “reformers” say they’re trying to save. Well guess what, reformers: your kind of reform would have destroyed me. Thank God for the master educators who didn’t have their careers measured by my scores on a test. #EvaluateThat #QuitKillingOurKids #QuitKillingOrSchools

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Testing, Testing

Let me make one thing clear: I’m not against a nation-wide test or a state-wide test or even a district test.

Data is not a bad thing. Discovering that 30 percent of the kids in your class don’t understand fact vs. opinion but across the hall a friend’s class has a hundred percent mastery of the concept….yeah, that’s valuable. And sharing those results with each other is invaluable. And asking why and finding answers to that question…invaluable.
The problem is the answer isn’t always simple.
Unlike factory production where there’s a constant inhuman product, teachers are working with people. People with emotions and hormones and issues. People who are constantly changing. That change is what we champion in education. It’s what we celebrate. It’s essential.
But when testing becomes the entire basis for education, when teachers are evaluated on effectiveness based on the test, when testing companies help define education policy, we’ve moved from using a test to help to using a test to destroy public schools and all that is good about education.
It’s making the WHY unimportant when finding the why is the thing that matters over any other. The why determines the how and the how to get past the why not.
A test can help determine what students have learned or not learned, but it can’t do a lot more than that. When it’s being used as a weapon against teachers, even that effectiveness is lost.
Finally, there are no one size fits all solutions to WHY NOT and HOW. The answers to those questions in Wichita Falls aren’t the same answers in Memphis or Mansfield or Minneapolis. When a test is used as the be all, end all of education that fact gets overlooked. Teachers understand that. More and more parents understand that. Politicians probably understood that at one time, but they’ve forgotten.
I hope that changes before more quality educators get out of the business of changing lives.

 

A Snow Day That Changed the World

…okay, that’s probably a bit of an overstatement, but all day #evaluatethat has been trending on twitter, and that fact has me feeling a bit on the positive side. #evaluatethat is dedicated to stories  from teachers, students and parents about positive educational moments that can’t be measured on a test. I probably would’ve never seen the hashtag if not for Diane Ravitch’s blog. If you believe in public education, and you aren’t following Ravitch, stop now and go follow her!

In the midst of all these great tweets I’ve seen a few legitimate questions from naysayers. People, almost always non-educators, ask how can we rid our schools of bad teachers without tests and merit pay?

I have a couple answers.

1. A test doesn’t rid your schools of bad teachers. It doesn’t rid your school of bad teachers because a test doesn’t magically create good teachers. An AWFUL teacher can have a classroom of kids pass a test. And an amazing beyond belief teacher can see half her students pass a test and half fail and know those results are miraculous. The awful teacher with a classroom full of kids passing the test will go about the business of life without a care in the world but with a huge carbon footprint courtesy of his school’s copy machine, a curriculum provided complete with scripts and five bajillion practice tests. The great teacher will go home exhausted and horrified that students are missing out on amazing educational opportunities because of the test. A test 50 percent passed and that’s amazing and wonderful and rock star, but not rock star enough and it’s not worth the stress and anguish and constant treading water and trying to keep afloat because she’s going to have to go in and face the music for the 50 percent who didn’t pass even though those 50 percent might be special needs, might be hungry or beaten or homeless or their dad might’ve walked out on their mom last night or their brother got arrested for dealing drugs or they couldn’t sleep because it was cold and there wasn’t money to pay the electric bill and the heat from the candle didn’t quite reach the pallet she shares with her baby brother. AND NONE OF THAT MATTERS. Failure is failure is failure.
And she’s a teacher and failure is not an option and she was given the curriculum and she obviously sucks at this job and everyone knows anyone could teach and what’s so hard about reading some lines in front of a class and handing out some worksheets and hey, you get summers off so stop your whining, and people from the megabajillion corporate world know better than every just-waiting-for-their-public-handout classroom educator out there, so they’re right, you’re wrong and on top of being wrong about a test not actually showing anything, about how states like Texas have spent over a $1 billion on tests with no measurable increase in actual learning because  politicians still believe in Pearson’s Emperor’s New Clothes education policy, on top of being wrong about all that (despite the plethora of documentation showing the teacher is right), NOW the state’s going to give you a grade and make it public or let you know you need a growth plan because 50 percent is not cutting it and yep, you suck, you need to find something else to do because failure is not an option no way, no how.

Yeah. A test doesn’t measure quality education or quality educators.

2. ASK THE TEACHERS how you get rid of bad teachers. Master educators have those answers. Due process should be part of that answer. Growth plans and mentors should be part of that answer. Administrator and master teacher walk-throughs should be part of that answer. The answer changes from school to school, from state to state. But the answer is there, and, trust me, great teachers and administrators WANT the answer more than companies making billions and politicians and “reformers”. It’s not easy, but it is effective. EASY and quality education have never gone hand in hand.

I’m sick to death of hearing great teachers hurt over fear of test scores. I’m sick to death of hearing them say it’s not worth it to teach when they can make more with a lot less stress in the private sector. We’re killing our schools and politicians have turned teachers into public enemy number one. Something has to change. That’s what #evaluatethat is all about. And that’s why I love it.

If you have a story to share, head over to twitter and share. Don’t forget to add #evaluatethat.

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.#

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I’ll be back with vacation pics tomorrow.