Urging a Common Sense Look at PARCC Testing

PARCC

Reposted from Surely, You Can’t Be Serious:

We are not afraid of accountability. We are not afraid of working hard to raise our students up. Teachers and administrators are among the most hardworking and dedicated people on this planet. Unfortunately, PARCC and tests like it have become monsters that drain students of classroom instruction time, and adults of the opportunity to do what they do best: work with kids and raise their intellect and prepare them to be thoughtful, caring adults.

Students in Illinois are raising their voices via the #stopPARCC movement, because they know full well this is a non-relevant product. Colleges are not recognizing it and businesses could care less. It means nothing to students, other than the fact that they know it’s robbing them of their education.

I urge you to take a common sense look at the severely negative impact that this runaway testing culture is having on the students in this state.

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Sheninger: Teacher Accountability Through a New Lens

possible

Reposted from A Principal’s Reflections:

The structure and function of the majority of schools in this country is the exact opposite of the world that our learners are growing up in.  There is an automatic disconnect when students, regardless of their grade level, walk into schools due to the lack of engagement, relevancy, meaning, and authentic learning opportunities.  Our education system has become so efficient in sustaining a century old model because it is easy and safe.  The resulting conformity has resulted in a learning epidemic among our students as they see so little value in the cookie-cutter learning exercises they are forced to go through each day. The bottom line is that they are bored.  It is time that we create schools that work for our students as opposed to ones that have traditionally worked well for the adults.

Creating schools that work for students requires a bold vision for change that not only tackles the status quo inherent in the industrialized model of education, but also current education reform efforts. Even though Common Core is not a curriculum, many schools and districts have become so engrossed with alignment and preparing for the new aligned tests that real learning has fallen by the wayside.   We need to realize that this, along with other traditional elements associated with education, no longer prevail.  How we go about doing this will vary from school to school, but the process begins with the simple notion of putting students first to allow them to follow their passions, create, tinker, invent, play, and collaborate.  Schools that work for students focus less on control and more on trust.

There is a common fallacy that school administrators are the leaders of change. This makes a great sound bite, but the reality is that many individuals in a leadership position are not actually working directly with students.  Teachers are the true catalysts of change that can create schools that work for kids. They are the ones, after all, who are tasked with implementing the myriad of directives and mandates that come their way. Leadership is about action, not position. Schools need more teacher leaders who are empowered through autonomy to take calculated risks in order to develop innovative approaches that enable deeper learning and higher order thinking without sacrificing accountability. If the goal in fact is to increase these elements in our education system then we have to allow students to demonstrate learning in a variety of ways.

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Improving Accountability in ESEA

esea

Reposted from the Brown Center Chalkboard:

The fix, then, for schools performing poorly is straightforward but not practical: gauge effectiveness for all teachers in a district, and move high performers to low-performing schools. The Institute of Education Sciences tested something like this approach on a small scale. As part of its study, high-performing teachers were offered financial incentives to move to low-performing schools. Only one or two teachers were moved to any one school. The study found that high performers resulted in an improvement of an entire grade level’s test scores. If the high performer were a fifth grade teacher, for example, the entire fifth grade improved its test scores from fourth to fifth grade. The high performer’s class generally improved the most, but that improvement was so large it was enough to move the whole grade level up.

This fix is about as low-risk as one can get to improve performance of a whole school, like ensuring the U.S. wins an Olympic gold medal in basketball by putting ten NBA all-stars on its team. It’s hard to imagine doing this fix on a large scale, however. A practical though possibly less effective approach would be for low-performing schools to increase skills of their teachers. Upskilling quickly means bringing in skilled teachers as overseers or mentors, possibly transferring weak teachers out of schools and bringing in high performers, as noted already, or providing materials or technologies that improve teacher skills directly or indirectly. This is not “teacher professional development” as it’s usually understood. But a school facing consequences right now has little time for its teachers to attend classes, in-service workshops, or summer institutes. A manufacturing company facing bankruptcy because it is producing defective products does not send its employees to the local community college to take courses. It locates the cause of the defects and fixes them as soon as it can.

Suppose a school continues to perform poorly despite upskilling its teachers. What next? The focus would turn to the principal. (These approaches could also happen at the same time.) Another finding emerging from recent research is that, like teachers, principals differ widely in their effectiveness. Principals of low-performing schools can be assigned a mentor or coach, given added support, or replaced by a known effective principal.

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ASCD: It’s Time to Rethink Antiquated Accountability Systems

ASCDmoratorium

Reposted from the ASCD Policy Position:

A two-year moratorium on using state assessments for high-stakes purposes is needed. States can and should still administer standardized assessments and communicate the results and what they mean to districts, schools, and families, but without the threat of punitive sanctions that have distorted their importance. ASCD is strongly advocating for a new approach in which testing is just one tool among many in determining whether our students are prepared for a successful future after high school graduation.

Standardized test results have been the defining measure of student achievement and school quality under the No Child Left Behind Act. This singular focus has resulted in several unintended and undesirable consequences, including over testing, a narrowing of the curriculum, and a de-emphasis of untested subjects and concepts—the arts, civics, and social and emotional skills, among many others—that are just as important to a student’s development and long-term success.

Making decisions about student readiness, teacher performance, and school quality that have far-reaching ramifications should never be based on a single state assessment. Yet, unfortunately, that is where we find ourselves today. Our education system is out of balance and needs to be reset so that testing is merely one component for evaluating progress and not the main driver of student learning and school improvement.

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Share Your Support for this Policy Position via the ASCD Forum…

Secret Teacher: I want to be like Yoda, but I feel more like a Stormtrooper

luke-yoda

Reposted from the Guardian Teacher Network:

I think Princess Leia was right. The more that management tightens up in this way, the more our students will disengage. Already, the stress that teachers are put under seems to have been passed on to our students. More of them are suffering from anxiety and depression, hiding under the duvet and refusing to attend. Their eyes glaze over: all that hard talking about what was at stake in those management-led supposedly inspirational assemblies on that first day back in September didn’t give our students the self-belief or the determination they needed to succeed. It left them demoralised and defeated. One student the other day expressed a quiet cynicism that I had never heard before: “I can’t do it. I can’t. You only want me to pass because it affects your pay.”

I wonder if this will continue, if more will switch off. Perhaps things won’t get better, perhaps they will get worse. And if next year’s results aren’t back on track, some new draconian measure will be introduced. There’ll be a bigger Death Star, more powerful than the first.

When I started in this profession, part of me just wanted to be Yoda – brilliant, wise, thoughtful, able to make my students realise their potential. Today, almost 20 years later, I feel more like a stormtrooper: faceless, dispensable, following orders. It’s not a great feeling. I don’t want to be a stormtrooper. I want to be Obi-Wan Kenobi, finally training Jedis again. I want to be Luke Skywalker, finding a way to put everything right. I want to be Leia, standing up to the regime. I want to be the spark of inspiration again – that proton torpedo that sets up a chain of events that will ultimately change the universe.

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Lamar Alexander: Federal Accountability Of Schools and Teachers A Failure

Lamar Alexander, R-TN.

Reposted from Time:

Sen. Lamar Alexander, the new chairman of the Senate committee on education, walked into Congress this month with guns a-blazin’. Twelve years after the passage of George W. Bush’s signature education bill, No Child Left Behind, and eight years after that troubled law was supposed to be revised and updated, the Tennessee Republican says now is the time for its long-neglected makeover. He plans to take a revised version of the law to the Senate floor by the end of February, with hopes of pushing it through Congress “in the first half of this year.”

The primary issue at stake is testing. Under No Child Left Behind, students are required to take a raft of standardized exams, each of which are used to assess whether schools are succeeding or failing, and, increasingly, to hold individual teachers accountable for their performance in the classroom. Critics of No Child Left Behind—and there are lots and lots of them—generally hate the testing mandate. Conservatives and Tea Party activists decry it as “government overreach,” while liberals, local teachers unions and parents lament the reliance on “high-stakes testing.” Even Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has said that too much testing can “rob school buildings of joy.”

“The thing that worked with No Child Left Behind is to take tests results, break them down and aggregate them so that we know that children really aren’t being left behind,” Alexander explains, “So you can’t have an overall average for a school that’s pretty good, but still leave all the Latino kids in a ditch somewhere. But what’s increasingly obvious to me is that the biggest failure of No Child Left Behind has been the federal accountability system – the effort to decide in Washington whether schools or teachers are succeeding or failing. That just doesn’t work. But I think the jury’s still out on the tests.”

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Reauthorizing ESEA: A Chance to Fix Testing & Accountability

arneesea

Reposted from the Shanker Blog:

Making the test the curriculum harms all students, but it does the most harm to those with the lowest skills. When I taught seniors in the Bronx, I worked with the highest-performing students who had already passed all their exams to help prepare them for the rigorous reading and writing they would face in college. We read philosophical and theoretical works ranging from Kant to Rawls to Nozick, and wrote and revised college-level argumentative essays. Though the Common Core was a far-off whisper at that point, my course far exceeded its demands, even if all my students could not yet meet them.

At the same time, I worked with the lowest-performing students who had yet to pass the New York State Regents. With them, I focused on mindless repetition of the facts that make up most of the Regents, and combined it with writing formulaic, timed essays that bore little resemblance to any real academic, civic, or career-based writing. I was really good at it, getting 100 percent to pass their exams in my final year leading Regents prep.

But I was doing my students no favors. I think to this day about T., a second-semester senior who could hardly write and struggled to read. In “Regents Prep Class” I worked with her on rote memorization rather than improving the reading, writing and thinking skills she would need for the rest of her life. The incentives were all wrong; sure, she passed the test, but she was still not ready for the community college work she encountered that fall. When we focus our efforts only on helping struggling students jump over the hurdle of mandated exams, the learning and opportunity gap widens.

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