Stand Up Against Standardized Tests

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)

A friend and neighbor alerted me to a petition signing she is participating in tomorrow at the school where our children attend. She posted this on Facebook to help spread the word:

” ….to support the brave teachers in Seattle that are boycotting the misuse of the MAP testing of their students. As a way of showing support, myself and many other parents throughout the city will be at our local schools collecting signatures to give to CPS asking them to greatly reduce the amount of testing our kids are experiencing. If you haven’t already signed the online petition, you can do so here.”

Why is this so important that I chose to write a blog post about it? First, I am a parent. My children feel the impact of excess testing. Their teachers cannot teach a lesson when they have to test almost 30 students. Students miss out on instruction time. Not all the tests help a teacher assess what a student knows.

Second, I am a former teacher. One of the biggest things that bothered me about education was the decisions being made by those who were a.) not currently teaching  b.)had never been in a classroom. If you talk to any educator, they will agree that 19 standardized tests a year is too much.

Third, I now work with teachers as a Math Coach. They started the school year with weeks upon weeks of testing and now they have to test their students again. No one wants a coaching cycle because they haven’t had time to implement the practices we discussed in our last coaching cycle due to the demands of testing. The teachers say many of the results are unreliable because the students do not know how to use the computer, or read or read in English. The testing seems to be a district wide one size fits all mandate.

The fourth reason I am writing about this is because this is not just a local problem. All around the country schools are administering more tests, while compromising quality instruction. The educational trajectory our children are on is cause for concern. If your community  is currently not affected by these decisions at the moment, that is great, but that could easily be an issue in the future. All of these children will grow up and make decisions in the world you live in. Do you want them to be critical thinkers and problem solvers? Do you want them to be able to collaborate and be innovative? I do. The question is, do you?

Let your voice be heard, even if you are not a parent. You can sign the petition here:

Student Teaching Comments Unearthed

My Pile of Index Card

Image by koalazymonkey via Flickr

A long time ago as part of completing my undergraduate degree in Education I had to spend an entire semester  student teaching. My first eight week placement was in a fourth grade classroom. The second eight weeks I divided my time between teaching eighth grade math and seventh grade language arts. At the end of my experience I had the idea to ask my middle school aged students to evaluate me. I know, you are probably thinking You did what???

For those who may not know this, middle school students is brutal. They are in the middle of strange growth spurts with their arms, legs, feet, facial hair, sweat glands, skin and voices. Plus, they are trying to find their niche – where they fit in at school. They are sensitive, but don’t want you to think they are. They think they are cool, but inside are sometimes confused. They tend to hold grudges, especially when they or their friends have been wronged. Are these really the people you want to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses as their teacher over the past eight weeks? If you answered NO, then congratulations, you knew something that I did not way back then. If you answered YES, then you are just as naïve as I was.

I was going through boxes that I never opened when we move from an apartment to a condo eleven years ago. Since we moved last year it has been my goal to go through every single box and purge, purge, purge because I do not want to turn into one of those people you see on television whose stuff has taken over their life. In one of those boxes I discovered materials from college, specifically my last stressful semester spent student teaching. For some reason I hung onto those  evaluations  from those middle school students. Each teen had scrawled their thoughts on a 3 by 5 index card. Rather than pitching them into the trash, (I temporarily got distracted from my purging goal) I began to read because I was curious. It was so long ago I  couldn’t remember the faces that went with the names. I barely remember the lessons I taught. In case you didn’t know, student teaching is intense. It saps your energy. I ran on fumes, churning out lesson plans   while trying to figure out how to get a job and when to send out resumes. My thoughts were consumed with questions like Does my cooperating teacher like me? Do the students like me?

On the evaluations from my middle school students I asked them to answer the following three questions:

1. What did you learn in class this while I was your teacher?

2. What did you like about the way I taught?

3. Do you have any suggestions for improvement?

Yea, I know. I set myself up for the third question. So, what did these young people who I was forced to spend the day with for eight weeks to earn my degree have to say about me?

One student wrote: Be nice to students unless they are out of control. Another student wrote: You always had a sweet voice and a smile on your face even when  no one was cooperating. Well, that makes me sound like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I guess I cannot please everyone all the time.

One student wrote at the bottom of his card: P.S. I would keep this card if I were you because I am going to be famous one day. Then he signed his name. I Googled his name but did not find it. I guess it hasn’t happened yet.

One student was very honest. He wrote: I liked it when you helped me with problems, even though I did not want to listen.  How refreshing.

I had one student give me advice! She wrote: Remember, what is right is not always popular, and hat is popular is not always right. Thanks a bunch! Hmmm, I never saw myself as Ms. Popularity although it is nice when people acknowledge when I am right.

One of my lessons for English class involved using details in writing. A student wrote: You have taught me to be outrageously detailed and very specific. 

Another student reflected on his own actions (at such a young age.) The only thing I didn’t like was all the late minutes we got. But that was mostly our fault.  Now if only I could get me children to reflect like that!

A student wrote: I learned how to keep my mouth shut when you or others are talking.  I was hoping he would mention a math topic. Oh well. Then he went on to write: I really liked when you gave us candy and you even gave me candy when I was being bad. All I can say in my defense is that everyone makes mistakes because I do not like to reward bad behavior.

Another student wrote: You smile too much. But then she went on to write: You are very hip and cool, too! Just for the record, I dress for myself, not for students. And i already knew I was cool.

Stay tuned. That was only a smattering of comments. I’ll have a second installment out in a future post sharing  more musings from former middle school students.

The Strings of Kites

Kites that are used to lift skateboarders up i...

Image via Wikipedia

This week our school is celebrating teachers with Teacher Appreciation Week . I wanted to take the opportunity to post a few teacher and education related essays on my blog this week. Please add your comments and/or perspectives at the bottom of the post. Conversation makes it more fun.
The following is a re-post from about a month ago. I wrote it to honor my son’s teacher, who does an incredible job with the students she has in her second grade classroom. I dedicate this essay to Ms. O’Hara.

Have you ever met an amazing teacher before? They come in different shapes, sizes and colors, much like the intricate Lego kits that my son loves to build with. They have their own personality and teaching style, and it is electric.They come from all walks of life and when they become part of your life, you find that you will never be the same.

Early on, my husband and I started noticing differences in our son. He was fascinated with spinning items. It began with fans, then came to include wheels. This led to inquiries about how things moved and worked. I still recall him at one and a half years old trying to communicate with the cashier at Dominick’s that the wheels on the bus go round and round, and of him laying on the floor exploring how a spatula spun around, instead of using it for pretend play. His interest in motion grew with a passion, as did his quick grasp of letters, sounds and words. He was an early reader and at times I wondered if he had a book stashed somewhere in my belly before he was born. On most mornings he is nowhere near to being ready for the day and not in the least  interested in anything other than the book in front of him.

This year he is finally in an environment where there are all sorts of children with  similar, intellectual abilities, interests and intense personalities. Although they are all working beyond their grade level, some are stronger in math or reading than others. Some show traits of perfectionism and are afraid to fail. Some of them get distracted easily, while others have a hard time with transitions because they are so focused on the task at hand. Many have asynchronous development, which means that their social and emotional development is not at the same level as their cognitive development.

This year, he has one of those amazing teachers. She understands all the quirks of these children. At times I cannot even describe how she does what she does in her classroom of 29 students. I have volunteered often and have seen her effortlessly manage behaviors, distractions, interruptions, and misunderstandings. She has multiple groups configured  by ability, personality, gender, table and compass direction. Her students are engaged in their learning environment.

Everyday, these children arrive, like little kites, ready to fly. She has 29 strings to manage. It can not be done well if she holds them too close to her for the entire day. She has to consider the classroom barometer to determine what type of weather her kites will be exposed to on any given day.  Then she must check for tears and properly woven strings before letting them go, up, up, up into the sky. Each day, she has to decide how much string to let out on each kite, and when to reel them in. She makes sure that the strings don’t get tangled up, or carried away towards  trees and wires. Some kites need to fly closer to the ground, while others show their need for  space and freedom with little tugs. Some need to be close to others or to her. Occasionally a kite can only stay so long in the sky, before it needs to come down.  She watches each uniquely designed kite, and marvels at the dips, swoops and dances that occur in the air and can’t help but smile as she witnesses the extraordinary potential of them all.