Posts Tagged ‘testing’

Scenes From an Insane Asylum


If you are a parent with school aged children in the United States, you might want to proceed with caution.  I swear that I am making none of this up. None of it. Not one word.

I’m not even exaggerating.

The following description of test days in an upper middle class suburban school district may make you panic and hyperventilate about your children and those who are in charge of their welfare during the school day.

On the other hand, the following description might make you decide that you absolutely MUST opt your children out of any further standardized testing in the future. In that case, I salute you, I thank you, and I promise you that you are doing the right thing.

Scene 1.  Teachers have been trained in maintaining security during the standardized testing days. We have been told that once we receive our giant tupperware box of testing materials, and have signed our names on the papers, we must NOT leave the boxes unattended for any reason.   This means that if we have to go to the bathroom before the testing starts, but after we have received our tupperware boxes, we have to take the boxes with us.   Yep.  We pee with the tupperware box full of high security tests at our feet.

Scene 2.   All of the kids are seated and ready.  Each has been given an official #2 pencil.  They wait expectantly, and nervously, for the testing to begin.  I hand out all of the test booklets, all of the answer sheets, all of the bright pink Math Reference Sheets, all of the rulers.  Because this is the second day of the math tests, I expected every ruler to still be inside every test booklet.  I had carefully placed them there the day before, and then I’d sealed up the giant Tupperware Box and returned it to the office.  I forgot that when I got to the office, I had to recount every item, as did the school secretary, and we both signed a sheet with the numbers recorded.  I forgot that we both had to do the same procedure again this morning.

Oops.

I was short two approved rulers. Now, I have to explain to you that the state of Massachusetts, in a fit of fiscal psychosis, buys and distributes hundreds of thousands of these EXACT same rulers every year.  My classroom is packed with them. However, the security rules of the test specify that we must use THIS year’s ruler.

I was faced with a dilemma.  I picked up one of this year’s rulers in my right hand, and one of last year’s in my left.  I frowned a bit.  Exactly, exactly the same clear plastic little ruler.  “I don’t think that inches have changed in a year”, quipped one of my boys.  I handed out two rule-breaking-but-indistinguishable last year’s rulers, and we began the test.

Scene 3.  The testing in the classroom is complete.  We have collected every test booklet, every answer booklet, every approved math reference sheet, every approved ruler.  We are supposed to pack up the giant tupperware box (can we just refer to it now as the GTB?) and carry it ourselves back to the school office, where it can be placed securely under lock and key.  However, one student is taking the test in a special education classroom, as specified in his IEP.  HIS official test administrator has his test booklet, his answer booklet, his approved reference sheet and his ruler.  She has to bring it back to the classroom (along with the student, but no one seems too concerned with that part).  Until we have this final test form, we can’t return the box to the office.  We wait.

Scene 4.  Given that the classroom full of antsy kids has now finished the testing, we’d like to go outside on this beautiful spring day.  But we are not allowed to remove any of the testing materials from the building. We are not allowed to leave the GTB unattended in the classroom.  We are not allowed to return it to the office without one of its tests.  We try to learn some science instead of going out to play.

Ha.

Scene 5.  I have a meeting to attend about one of my students.  They have all gone off to lunch, but my one student who is still testing with the special educator has not returned.  I cannot leave the GTB.  I hoist it up and haul it with me to my meeting, where it will sit on the floor for an extra hour.

In the meantime, of course, the special ed teacher has collected the finished test from her student, and is searching the building for me.  She can’t leave the test on my desk, nor can she return it to the office.  She MUST hand it to me. She goes to the office to find me, and has to interrupt my meeting in order to hand me the test, which I then insert into the TGB.

Scene 6.  Like any teaching in the world, I have become an expert at bladder control.  But the meeting finally ends, and I rush off to the ladies room.  Where I am confronted with the hilarious sight of three clear tupperware boxes filled with testing materials.  All in a row on the floor of the bathroom as their owners get some relief.

Please tell me, someone, anyone, how in hell this craziness is really going to “improve student outcomes”?

I feel like I spent a week in One Flew Over the Coocoo’s Nest.

So you think we’re exaggerating?


Dear Standardized Testing supporters,

I am writing this post after having spent the past two days administering the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System- Math, Grade 5.

I have a few little anecdotes and insights for you folks, given that you believe all this testing is actually useful.

Let me give you a very brief description of the absurdities of the educational testing world.  If you still believe that High Stakes testing is good for anyone who spends his/her day in a school, then you are either delusion of on the Pearson Payroll.

Scene 1.   As a public school teacher in my state, I had to participate in an “MCAS Security Training Session.”  I had to watch a Powerpoint presentation, and then sign my name on a document swearing that I had watched the presentation.

Scene 2.  On Day 1 of the testing, every teacher who was giving the test was required to come to the school office to pick up our materials.  Materials were available for pickup from 8:45 to 9:00 AM.   All 18 of us showed up in the office right on time.

Scene 3: Before we were allowed to take our Boxes of Test Materials, every teacher had to count every test booklet, answer booklet, MCAS Approved Reference Sheet and “any additional materials”.  We then had to sign a document where we recorded our counts. Then an office staff member had to repeat the process and write the same numbers, and sign.    This took a long time. To say the least.

Scene 4: We read the directions.  We are instructed to tell the children that the test session is scheduled to last for two hours, but that they will be given as much time as they need, up until the end of the school day.

Scene 5: We tell the children, our sweet, trusting eleven year old kids, that “cheating in any form is forbidden”.  We tell them that they are not allowed to use cell phones, game consoles, music players (?) or any other electronic devices.  We tell them that they can’t use scrap paper, but they can scribble all over their test booklets.

Scene 6: The test has begun.  A very bright, hardworking student raises her hand.  I signal for her to come to my desk.  She does not recognize one of the many words that mathematicians use for “number”.   I am forced to give the scripted and MCAS approved answer.  “I’m sorry. I can’t tell you what it means.  Use your best judgement.”

Scene 7: My wonderful, smart, exceptional Chinese student, who started the year with exactly one phrase of English is working very hard at her desk.  Uh, oh.  I notice that she is using her everyday Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher.  She is supposed to be using the MCAS Chinese-English dictionary, given to her by our ELE teacher!  This could be a violation!  I hurry to her desk and crouch beside her.  Her beautiful dark eyes rise to meet mine. I can see by the flush in her cheeks that she is anxious.

“Honey,” I say, “I’m sorry, but you can’t use this dictionary.  You have to use THIS one.”   She frowned a bit.  “But this book doesn’t has the math words.  THIS book has.”                                                       “Yes, I know.” I say, “But you have to use this one.” I hold up the everyday dictionary.  The one with no academic vocabulary.

My student frowns harder.  She is a very diligent student.    She holds up the forbidden dictionary, given to her on the first day of school by her English Language teacher.

“This book has math words.  THIS book,” she holds up the official MCAS Approved dictionary, “THIS book no has this important words.”

My heart sinks.  “I know,” I say, as I take the forbidden dictionary away from her.

Scene 8: The room is silent.  22 kids have completed the test.   One is still working.  I have to keep the 22 silently in their seats, reading books.  No talking.  No walking around the room. No pulling out your unfinished work.  No writing in your journal. No drawing or sketching or painting.  Why not? No one can tell me.  This goes on for nearly an hour.

Scene 9:  My colleague and close friend texts me in the middle of the test.  Her husband has been taken to the hospital with chest pain!  She isn’t sure what to do!  The MCAS Security training has told her that she can’t leave the room while the kids are working.  But she wants to go to see her husband!! Luckily, our fifth grade assistant is in my room!  She has worked for this school for almost 25 years. She has subbed for us all, she has taught small groups, she has come on a hundred field trips.  She offers to stay in the classroom while the kids finish the test.  “Sorry”, she is told. “You haven’t taken the Security Training.  You haven’t signed the papers.”  She cannot monitor the test.  My friend and her husband must both wait.

Stay tuned for tomorrows set of “Scenes from an Insane Asylum”.  They are even crazier.

A brief time out


I know that I recently committed to writing positive, uplifting stories from my classroom.  I continue to believe that we need those stories to carry us forward.

The very best part of writing about those moments, when I know that I have changed the life of a child, is the realization that I am nothing special.

ALL teachers have the same impact. We all change lives. Every single day.

But today I need to take a side trip, back to the frustrations and anger that come from the current push toward the Common Core and the PARCC tests.

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria on CNN.  I generally avoid all of CNN’s programming, given that I don’t want to watch wall to wall coverage of bad weather, ignorant celebrities and missing planes.

But I have always found Mr. Zakaria to be thoughtful, knowledgeable and interesting.   I turned on his show this morning expecting to see a good discussion of the impending civil war in Ukraine.  Instead, I was shocked and saddened to hear Mr. Z talking about the problem with American education.

To be fair, I did agree with him when he said that the key issue in the US is the increasing income disparity and the large number of children being raised in poverty. But then he started to talk about those damned test scores; the ones that attempt to compare “The US” to other countries.  The ones that fail to take into account the fact that it is the poorest states that drag down our national scores. The one that fails to report that states which adequately support funds for public education (Mass, NY, Conn) score well above the world average.

He went on to talk about the “misguided” push back against the Common Core, which he called “a tragedy”.

You can find Mr. Z’s comments on the Washington Post, dated May 1st.

When I heard his comments, I put aside the giant stack of essays that I was planning to correct and I grabbed my laptop to reply.  This is the email that I sent.  I would love it if others would join me!

Dear Mr. Zakaria,

I am a long time viewer and have always been impressed with your thoughtfulness and your careful research.  I am in general agreement with most of your views, and will continue to read and watch your work.

However,I have been left  feeling angry, hurt and enormously demoralized  by your comments this morning on CNN, and your recent article in the Washington Post .

I teach fifth grade in an upper middle class public school in Massachusetts.  I have been teaching for more than 20 years, and have been ranked as a “Highly Qualified” educator.

I oppose the Common Core State Standards and the upcoming PARCC tests for several reasons, none of which you have considered in your opinion.

First: The standards no doubt are an attempt to create a uniform set of expectations for all students in the United States.   While I applaud the idea of setting standards for our children, I disagree strongly with the idea that all students in all places MUST reach them on a given day. The current system punishes schools and teachers for each child who fails to reach the standards, disregarding issues of ability/disability, native language and (most crucially) poverty.  The standards are being used as a bludgeon, rather than a goal.

Second: The CCSS were created without the input of a single elementary school teacher. Not ONE. Instead, representatives of major corporations (Pearson, Microsoft, Apple, to name a few) were part of the original consortium.  

Third: The CCSS and PARCC are funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to the above named corporations.  Dollars that could have been spent on decreasing class sizes, training teachers, building safer, cleaner, new schools or providing services to children who live in poverty.

The pushback against the Common Core is hardly a “tragedy”.  It is, in fact, a reasoned, thoughtful, powerful reaction to the corporate takeover of our public schools and the government’s failure to address the true needs of our students.

I would encourage you to research ACHIEVE, Pearson Corporation, FairTest.org, Diane Ravitch and the true story of the Common Core State Standards

 

Mistakes


I had a student a year or so ago.  She was sweet, pretty, funny, creative, shy, warm and wonderful.  She was a kid.

This girl’s heart was in creative arts.  She wanted to be a fashion designer.  She came to school every day in the most inexplicably adorable combination of leggings, colorful shoes, off the shoulder sweaters and hair bands.  As a person with absolutely no fashion sense whatsoever, I was intrigued and impressed every time she walked into my classroom.

This girl was not a strong math student.  Her mom was in a panic, fearing that her child was showing a learning disability or a lack of motivation or a character flaw of some kind. I did my best, all year long, to reassure the mom.  I told her that I found her daughter to be absolutely cognitively and mathematically competent, in spite of her shaky test grades.  I thought that the little girl was slightly intimidated by the math, but I also told her, honestly, that her daughter just didn’t consider fifth grade math to be a huge priority.

I told the mom, as I told the girl, “Math isn’t a goal in itself. It’s just a tool.  If you want to be able to figure out the cost of clothes on sale, you’ll need math. If you want to calculate how much you will pay every month for a new computer, you’ll need math.”  The child began to relax, and the mom seemed to take a deep breath.

It was at the very last conference of the year when I realized that this traditionally very anxious Momma had begun to trust my judgement.  As I finished my description of her child’s academic achievements for the year, she leaned forward and smiled.  “Lily learned so much this year!”, she said, putting her hand on my wrist. “She taught me so much!”

I wasn’t sure where she was going with this thought, but I smiled in return. She seemed pleased, so I was happy!

“I love what you told her about mistakes!”, she said.

I frantically searched my memory, trying to recall what I could have said.  I knew that as a “big picture” learner myself, I often overlooked little details like the operation sign or the carried digits.  As a child, I was often accused of making “careless mistakes”. I found this to be enormously frustrating: it didn’t seem to matter how much I “cared”, my mistakes were still considered “careless”. I wondered if I had passed on the same message to my  not so mathematical student.  I waited with some trepidation as the mom leaned back in her seat.

“She told me what you said about math mistakes!  You said, ‘ There are no careless mistakes. There are only mistakes that you know how to correct’.  She feels so good about her math skills now!”

She beamed at me as I sat there, my jaw agape, my mind a blank.  Did I really say that?  Jeez, I hope I did!  What a wonderful thought to pass on to a kid!

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I don’t know if I was really that wise, or if this lovely little girl simply interpreted my words this way. I don’t actually care! She went on to sixth grade, and did very well in math.  

 

Back to school


April vacation is over.

The kids have rested, gone to Disney, travelled to Europe, slept late.

The teachers have planned the rest of the math lessons, read and scored the essays, created the next writing prompt, chosen the book groups, made the class lists for next year, ordered the new book bins and science materials, set up the end-of-year conferences and commented on the kids’ stories.

And now its time to go back to school.  This is the last push, the final segment.  This is the time of year when we will take our state tests and will move on to the true curriculum.

This is the time of year when I will let the children create, write, produce and perform a play.  They will have to learn how to work to to consensus. They will need to compromise if they want to do the play. They will negotiate with each other, solve problems together, work as a team.

It will be REALLY hard for them.  There will be tears, and hurt feelings and anger.

I will be absolutely resolute in my  determination to Make. Them. Solve. The. Problems.

I will listen, guide, facilitate.

I will NOT make the decisions.

Every year, at this time of year, when the damn tests are finished, I watch my students learn how to be creative and cooperative and sensitive and caring.  Every year, when I can finally stop feeding them answers, I am allowed to watch them as they find those answers for themselves.

I am excited.

I love this time of year, because this is what true teaching is all about.  This is the time of year when I will be amazed as I see which quiet, awkward child emerges as the director of our play.  This is the time of year when I will see the athletic superstar stepping back to the let the nerd come forward as the star of the show.  The sensitive math brain might become our technology expert, creating the backgrounds and soundtrack for our play.  The silly goof-off might become the primary writer of a show that is based on fifth grade humor. The silent observer just may end up with the funniest ten seconds of acting in the entire production.

This is the time of year when my hardest job is to stay out of the way, to let the kids take the reins.  This is the time of year when I believe, with my whole heart, that the best and most meaningful learning will take place.

Without me.

Which is exactly as it should be.

Schools for Sale!!!


Oh, my flippin’ God.

This is beyond disgusting.

I just found this website on a post from the Badass Teacher’s Association.

Before you click on the link, please think about this.  My 30 years of teaching experience and my Master’s Degree and my 56 hours of graduate credit beyond that degree will be of no importance to me at all once we go to the proposed teacher evaluation system where my salary and my standing will be almost entirely dependent upon the scores that my students earn on the latest standardized tests.

Please understand that my daughter’s financial stability and job security as a teacher will depend upon the students’ scores on these tests.

And before you check this link, try to grasp the fact that students who don’t speak English, students who are autistic, students who are deaf, students who are oppositional/defiant and students who are homeless and hungry will all be tested on the same Pearson Corporation standardized test.

Now that you know all that, click on this link. Read for yourself about exactly how the damn tests are going to be scored.

To quote my students, “Seriously, dude?”  Any recent college grad with a degree in philosophy or biology or comparative religions can earn 12 bucks an hour scoring the essays that will be used to decide my fate?

Are. You. Fucking. Serious.

Read it.  Then weep.

https://austin.craigslist.org/etc/4368426307.html

April Fools!!!


Oh, man I love April Fools Day.

The kids came in at their usual time, to see our typical morning message on the Smartboard.

Good morning!  I think you’ll find this math review paper to be fun and challenging.  Try to work independently; I am sure you’ll remember the formulas from last year!”  They all came in, handed in homework, put away binders and settled in to do the math.

Which was a college level calculus paper.

Oh, funny, funny me!!!!

It took a few minutes, but pretty soon everyone was giggling and snickering and I was desperately trying to hold onto my serious old teacher lady face. I got the best answers to these problems.  Things like, “I know the answer, but I can’t tell you.”   and “There are x number of weird symbols.  Minus something.”

Eventually, one of the kids noticed the daily schedule written on the board, and the giggles got louder.

Before School Work

Morning Meeting

Math Test

Spelling Test

Reading Test

Music Test

Recess

Lunch Test

Ballroom Dancing

Spirograph

Random Comments

Bus Test

They chortled and snorted and I thought I was the best. teacher. ever.

Then came morning meeting.  One child signed up for sharing, and told us that her father took a bad fall last night and was rushed to the hospital. She gave very specific medical details about his injury, inspiring gasps, moans of sympathy and  a truly heartfelt, “Oh, honey! Give him our very best!” from me.  She kept her head down, her shoulders slumped. She was the very picture of a worried little girl.  “Oh, and I forgot to tell you,”, she added.  She lifted her head with a devilish grin. “Pranked!!!!!”  The whole class burst into laughter, including me.

We had a false technical emergency today.  I found a plastic iguana in my water glass.  I dealt with a pretend head injury and a made-up best friend fight.

The kids, in turn, were given a fake spelling test (with the words “cardiology” and “tardive dyskinesia” on the list) and a pretend homework assignment to memorize the foreign dictionary of their choice.

I am not sure that we “advanced toward the standards” today.  We may not have engaged in 21st century learning or mastered any of the Common Core.

But you know what?

We had fun. We learned not to take ourselves so seriously.  We looked at each other and giggled.  We were happy to be in school.

# Evaluate that, you stupid ed reform idiots.

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