March 20th, 2014

One Mom’s Struggle With School and Tests

I can always tell when testing season arrives here in New Jersey as I start getting e-mails from parents wanting to know more about my experiences in opting my son Tucker out of the test. It’s not a deluge, mind you, but one or two a week that I try to reply to with more info and links. 

Some are more than about testing, however. Some, like the one I’ve gotten permission to reprint below, get to the heart of the larger tension between schools as they’re currently constructed and learning. I’m not saying this is every person’s experience, but when I read e-mails like this, it gives me pause. I think it should give us all pause. 

I know this mom would love to hear your response in the comments.

Hi Will,

I’m sorry if this email turns out rambling… but I am at my wits end. I came across your website for the first time tonight, and have not had a chance to read your book yet… but let me give you some background on why I’m writing you…

Tonight, I yelled at my 7 year old child because she misspelled one of her spelling words… the word ‘rainbows’. Yes you read that correctly. I yelled at her. She sobbed uncontrollably as I refused to let her erase the mistake. This I know is ludicrous. Why the hell would I do that? Mistakes happen. That’s why pencils have erasers, right? Well its because of what public school is doing to my child and I cannot stand to watch it anymore. Tonight it turned me into a monster. Its been over 6 hours since this incident and I’m still overwhelmingly disgusted with myself as if it had just happened.

My daughter is a wonderful, bright, funny, delightful little 2nd grader. Most adults that meet her marvel at the obvious level of intelligence she has. This is not me trying to brag or call my child a genius - but what it is… is me standing up for her where she is being made to feel insecure and unintelligent. 

For too many nights to count, I have watched my child come apart at the seams trying to make sense of homework that I deem to be complete and utter bullshit and a complete waste of time. I watch her write letters, words and numbers…. only to erase and write again, erase and write again…. because it’s not perfect, it’s not what the teacher said to do, it’s not what will get her perfect scores and make everyone happy. I watch her trying to think of multiple ways to write out a math sentence such as ‘5+4=9’. I mean, how many ways does a 7 year old need to write it? She even gets math equations that look like this: ‘16+12=__’. Ask her what the ones and tens places are and she couldn’t tell you. (I have explained them to her… and she is beginning to understand, but isn’t allowed to use that method at school(WTF?). The math that is being taught isn’t math at all. Its all comprehension. Why is she getting comprehension shoved down her throat before she even has the basic building blocks in the fundamentals of addition and subtract? I know the answer - NJ ASK. I’m sick of erasing, and the tears and wasted nights. I sick of watching this beautiful creature being snuffed out by school work that really isn’t teaching anything.

Every night we do 2 hours of homework. I dread homework. I’m not anti-homework. What I’m against is homework hijacking my night 5 days a week. A typical day she gets home at 4pm. I let her have a snack and unwind for an hour. Then we begin this awful homework regime. She is tired. Why is she doing school work from 9am to 7pm( if I’m lucky)? She isn’t learning at this rate… she is just going through the motions to get it done. 

Tonight as my child sobbed, curled up in my arms, with her little body trembling, she tells me what a bad reader she is and that’s why she tries to read more than what’s required; so she can get better. She’s a bad speller too. She’s afraid she won’t get to go to 3rd grade. Everything feels hard for her. These are the words coming from her mouth.

In my mind, I could not even begin to fully process what she was saying to me at the time. I read with her every night. She reads well. She stumbles on words sometimes, but she is only 7 and I thought that was to be expected. So where are these feelings of inadequacy coming from? I give her only praise at home, so I must believe it stems from something happening at school. I find it disgusting that my child is made to feel that way in an environment that is supposed to be building her up, cheering her on and not making her feel like the class dunce. 

At the same time, I have loved every teacher she has had. I believe the school and the people in it are honestly doing their best to help my child succeed. So I just don’t understand what is happening or where the breakdown is.

I’m confused about my feelings for Common Core… It’s political, it’s a dirty word, it has ‘good intentions’ but its implementation sucks….

My quest isn’t political. I have no hidden agenda. My only goal is for my child to be afforded an education that nurtures real critical thinking, teaches her grammar and arithmetic, teaches her to love learning, to question, explore and so much more. 

I dread NJ ASK when 3rd grade comes. But I don’t want to just ‘opt out’ of the test… because I don’t see how that solves the greater problem. I’ve tried to search for alternative educations solutions but I really don’t know where to even begin.

We live in *******, where the school district claims to be one of the best in the state. I often feel alone in my opinion of the education she is receiving. So many friends and family members have told me to not worry. That the school system is fine. Its not fine. I am not fine and she is not fine. Tonight was horrible. Its not the first night that we have had like this. But I vowed it will be the last.

Do you have any recommendations as a starting place for alternative school options that don’t teach using Common Core standards? I can’t afford a private school. I just really don’t know what to do anymore.
December 1st, 2012

Expediency and Profit Over Education

Todd Farley

I am not anti-technology, and I know the day will come when computers will read and understand writing, will assess writing, will teach writing. The automated scoring engines that currently exist will probably also prove fundamental to those later developments, too. But until the time comes that automated scoring engines can read and understand, the benefits of those systems seem quite limited to me, not to mention negligible when it comes to high-stakes assessment. It seems to me that claiming otherwise — claiming automated essay scoring will change assessment as we know it or will lead to miraculously robust Common Core tests — is to be more concerned with expediency (and, surely, profit) than anything at all to do with the education and enrichment of this country’s students and writers.

September 24th, 2012

Let’s Make it an Even 300, OK?

Been doing some ciphering as to the number of state or national tests New Jersey kids starting kindergarten next year will be taking through their school careers:

Total known state and national tests in 12 years of school: 299

Really.

Some questions come to mind:

  • Does anyone think this is good for kids?
  • Does anyone not think this will increase focus on test prep?
  • Does anyone not think this will decrease a teacher’s ability to provide rich learning experiences for kids?
  • Do the standards and model curriculum attempt to prepare kids for the “new normal” of the world as it is?
  • Who are these people? 

That’s just a start.

Yours? 

UPDATE: I realized I was a bit off on the number. Really it’s at least 214. Social Studies and Science will only be tested during high school according to the NJ Model Curriculum. Still…

December 6th, 2011

"When Test Scores Become a Commodity"

Teacher Jonathan Keiler from Maryland absolutely nails it in this essay in EdWeek:

When student scores become like orange juice, pork bellies, or yen, the people with the greatest incentive to cheat are the weakest teachers and administrators. These people might be weak, but that doesn’t mean they are stupid. Weak but clever educators will inevitably find ways to game the system, sometimes by cheating, but more often by coming close, but not stepping over the line: Educators could turn their courses into nothing but test-prep machines; they could refuse to collaborate with colleagues; they could curry favor with students to encourage better results; or take other steps we can’t imagine. Many of these weaker teachers, even short of cheating, might well end up with excellent “value added” scores, while stronger teachers who are honest and don’t play the sharp game end up looking bad.

This is not just a possible bad outcome, it is inevitable. It is inevitable because markets generate such behavior and dislocations, and the more volatile the market, the greater the undesirable behavior and dislocations will be.

So when we speak about value-added evaluations, let’s be clear about what kind of knot we’ve tied. It is a system that turns student scores into a market and, as such, creates cheating, disreputable practices, and dislocations. On the flip side, let’s also talk straight about the cheaters. Like dishonest or corrupt traders, the educators are not the victims, but rather sophisticated, savvy players. Many will get away with it and be honored for their work, as some cheating administrators and teachers were before they were caught. And many teachers and administrators who don’t technically cheat, but find ways to game the market “legally” will also be duly honored. Where could this lead? Schools could become little more than test-preparation institutes, ignoring subjects and skills that are not assessed, with faculty members who resent and distrust one another. Meanwhile, many honest and dutiful teachers will go down in flames.

If this is the kind of public school system the American people want, then fine. Let’s just be honest about it.

Amen.

(Source: edweek.org)

November 7th, 2011

"It’s All About Distrust"

The scariest part of this story about how the new teacher evaluation policies in Tennessee are sending “morale into the toilet” is not that the framework is broken. It’s that someone actually created this stupidity in the first place. I mean, just read this:

Teachers have it worse. Half of their assessment is based on their students’ results on state test scores, a serious problem for those who teach subjects with no state test.

To solve that, the state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.

“How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”

For 15 percent of their testing evaluation, teachers without scores are permitted to choose which subject test they want to be judged on. Few pick something related to their expertise; instead, they try to anticipate the subject that their school is likely to score well on in the state exams next spring.

Several teachers without scores at Oakland Middle School conferred. “The P. E. teacher got information that the writing score was the best to pick,” said Jeff Jennings, the art teacher. “He informed the home ec teacher, who passed it on to me, and I told the career development teacher.”

It’s a bit like Vegas, and if you pick the wrong academic subject, you lose and get a bad evaluation. While this may have nothing to do with academic performance, it does measure a teacher’s ability to play the odds. There’s also the question of how a principal can do a classroom observation of someone who doesn’t teach a classroom subject.

My. Goodness. Who in their right mind would create and impose something as asinine as this? Really?

These are scary times.

June 13th, 2011

National Tests Yield Few Results

Heavily testing students and relying on their scores in order to hold schools — and in some cases teachers — accountable has become the norm in education policy. The No Child Left Behind Act, the largest piece of education legislation on the federal level, for example, uses performance on math and reading exams to gauge whether schools are failing or succeeding — and which schools are closed or phased out.

“Incentives are powerful, which means they don’t always do what they want them to do,” said Kevin Lang, a committee member who also chairs Boston University’s economics department. “As applied so far, they have not registered the type of improvements that everyone has hoped for despite the fact that it’s been a major thrust of education reform for the last 40 years.”

The tests educators rely on are often too narrow to measure student progress, according to the study. The testing system also failed to adequately safeguard itself, the study added, providing ways for teachers and students to produce results that seemed to reflect performance without actually teaching much.

That last sentence, the idea that we have a system that allows us to produce results without actually teaching much, is a huge indictment of the current educational framework. I’m starting to think more and more that the assessment “problem” is where we should be spending our energies more and more.

(Source: The Huffington Post)

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Welcome! I'm Will Richardson, parent, educator, speaker, author, 12-year blogger at Weblogg-ed and now here. I'm trying to answer the question "What happens to schools and classrooms and learning in a 2.0 world?" Best selling new book: Why School?s...order now!!


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