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Month: April 2017 (page 1 of 2)

The Story Behind the Story: Project 180, Day 141

Friday, I posted on the data we collect. Much of the data we collect is mined from students’ standardized assessments. And as the kids hopefully wrap up testing this week (at least 3 days to go), we will sit and wait for the results, the data. And though some would suggest that the data are key, are essential to informing our work in the classroom, I am no longer convinced that’s the case. I will get some information about this year’s kids; OPSI will generate a “report card;” the administration will offer up graphs and charts as evidence of what is and isn’t; and I will be asked to look for trends from this year’s results to drive my decision making in my classroom next year. Next year. From this year. Here’s the rub. The problem with the over-reliance on last year’s standardized assessment data is that it applies to last year’s students. It’s not relevant. Not once in my career have I found state assessment data to be of significance when making decisions about my approach with my current students. And I know that the argument suggesting that the data follow the kids exists, but I have not found it to be particularly useful in making real decisions in the classroom. For me, and others, standardized assessment results are really just an indicator that students, teachers, and schools have jumped through the hoops. Oh, I am sure it serves someone or something somewhere, but we need to reject the narrative that it provides critical input for teachers when it comes to making key curricular and instructional decisions. It is simply not true.

And yet, those in power believe that it is THE revelatory data that we should use to make our curricular and instructional decisions. I believe many in education are kidding themselves about the power and usefulness of the data we mine from standardized testing. The only useful data I have ever uncovered in my career has come from my immediate, in-the-moment, day-to-day interactions with my students. That is the data to dig up. That is the stuff of truly relevant data-driven decisions.

And so, as we move on to day six of testing, I will continue to be a cheerleader for my kids, encouraging them to  jump through the hoop of hoops. And I will, then, sit and wait for the hoop-jumping results in June, bidding farewell to my kids this year, waiting to meet next year’s kids before I make any decisions. I have to. No relevant data will exist until we begin our experience together. Yes, teachers should make data-driven decisions. Of course we should. But not all data are useful. So we need to be selective about the data we choose. All data tell stories. But some stories are more important than others. I am no longer buying the standardized story. Well, I haven’t bought for a long time. I am just more willing to publicly call BS now. Time for a new story.

Happy Monday, all.

Names not Numbers: Project 180, Day 140

Yesterday, I emailed this to colleagues and administrators as a reminder that while data tell a story, some stories are perhaps more important than others. Schools have always collected from the left-hand column. We do an exacting job of it. And once collected, we then analyze it to make sense of it, using it to make important decisions about the system. Nothing novel or new about this. It’s how the system works, a system that has essentially, in many respects, remained unchanged for decades. The problems are not new, and sadly, neither are the answers. And yet, we continue down the same old path, mostly listening to the left, largely ignoring the right.

For the last four days, kids’ stories are being written. But not by them. They have not shared their passions, interests, and goals. They have delivered data points to a system that will build a facade, hiding within those who inhabit the walls, perpetuating that they hold the definitive details to the year’s stories. They hold the data. But data are not kids. Kids are not numbers. And numbers present a limited view of the complexity that is learning. I’m no longer convinced the numbers alone pave the path towards progress. I think there’s more to the story. Maybe it’s time to start driving on the right side of the road. Maybe instead of collecting we should be listening. We might learn something.

Yesterday, to illustrate my point–as I vowed to both colleagues and admin–I called each kid by name as I handed out their test tickets with their identification numbers. With a smile, I reassured each that he/she was a name, not a number, wishing him/her luck. Names not number. People not pupils. Stories not data points.

Happy Friday, all. The march into madness continues today. Grumble.

If Only: Project 180, Day 139

The saga continues. Some of the kids will begin taking the CAT part of the SBA today, the “multiple choice” segment. Wish the choice factor was an opt out factor.  But that’s not the case. Yet. I hope we have about reached the end of this era.  Keeping it short. Nothing nice to say.

Happy Thursday, all. Grumble. Grumble.

Test Story: Project 180, Day 138

Infinity and beyond, indeed, Buzz. This is how the testing season feels. It goes on and on. Forever. And we are just underway. Selfishly, I am thankful that LA is up first when the kids’ brains are fresh and their tolerance is still intact. I feel sorry for my science colleagues. By the time the kids get to their round of tests, they are done. So done. Can’t say that I blame them.

But for now, they are just getting started.  The kids, bless their hearts, are working hard, and I am proud of their commitment. Gave lots a pats on the back as I walked around the testing room yesterday as if to say, “You gotta a friend in me.” Wish I could be a better friend and turn their test stories back a few years to their toy stories. But those days are gone. They live in the “real world” now. And it is a mad, mad world we live in.

Happy Wednesday, all.

Differentiated Standardization? Project 180, Day 137

Day Two. Well, day one for some. We opted to go with a two-hour block schedule for the first four days of testing this year. Yesterday, we had periods one, three, five; today, we will have two, four, six, so in reality, for these kids it will be day one. Not sure if the block schedule will be advantageous. In briefly talking to the kids, many felt it was too long, and beyond that, those who tested yesterday, won’t get back to it until tomorrow, and some felt like that was not fair since it would no longer be fresh in their minds. Not sure what the best approach is. But I’ll likely suggest we go back to the one-hour testing schedule next year.

Each period we wrapped up a little early, and in overhearing the kids talk, I discovered that not only are there many different topics but there is also a mix of modes, either explanatory or argumentative. And while this is not completely unexpected, the variety seems more pronounced this year. And I wonder about that. I wonder if our “vetting process” for the tests is so reliable and accurate that truly equitable conditions exist for all kids. Are we in an age of differentiated standardization? Is that possible? Is this a kid consideration, or is it a test-manufacturer’s selling point? Like, “Oh, look, we offer a number of standardized options that cover various topics in different modes. And now, if you want to truly teach to the test, to succeed on the test you must access our interim assessments.” Of course, these interim tests are not being offered altruistically; they come with a price. Not sure I trust that which comes with a price. Not sure that I trust an education-for-profit approach. But I do trust my instincts, and in so doing, I am not sure this differentiated approach is equitable, nor do I think it will settle the anti-standardization crowd. How do I get behind this when I hear one kid say to another, “Why did you get that topic? My topic sucks.”? And then, inevitably, eyes turn to me with a what-gives-Sy accusation. But I have to ignore it. I can’t talk to the kids–my kids–about it. It’s against the rules. It’s outta my hands. It’s in the hands of those who apparently know better than I. I am no longer the teacher. I am the betrayer. At least that’s how I feel. Sorry kiddos. I don’t know what gives. And even if I did, I’m not sure I could explain it.

Happy Tuesday, all. Grumble. Grumble.

And So It Begins: Project 180, Day 136

Well, here we go. The kids will embark on their standardized testing journeys today. For English Language Arts (ELA), they take two tests: the performance task (PT) and the computer adaptive test (CAT). Their combined score on each will determine if they meet standard in order to graduate. If they don’t pass the first time, they have additional opportunities to pass the test over the next two years. And while I know with great certainty that all will eventually pass, it is my earnest hope that each meets standard the first time. One and done. But, sadly, for a small handful of kids, this will not be the case.

Not all of my kids will pass the first time around. And while the reasons will vary, I could almost predict who those kids will be. For most of the few, it will be those who did not earnestly embrace the growth opportunities before them this year. And while my critics might point to my approach (no grades) as the contributing factor, I would point, in turn, that the same scenario played out last year–with grades. 92% of my kids passed the first time last year. I expect a similar number this year. Oh, I hope for a 100%, but it’s unlikely. There are a lot of factors, of course, but in the end, I think it simply comes down to it may not be the right time for them. They may not be ready.  And so, then, it becomes a question of why? And for that, there are no easy answers. Yes, I own a great deal of that responsibility, but ownership becomes a tricky equation. It becomes a matter of, “Where does it start? Where does it end?” If I have to own the lowest, then I have to own the highest–and all points in between. And as those scores are tallied and weighed, what do they really mean in the end? If most of my kids pass, do I succeed? If some of my kids don’t pass, do I fail? How much of this year factors into their success? How much do past years factor into their success? Is a kid who passes this year, really that much smarter than the kid who passes next, or is it a matter of timing and readiness?  So many questions, not enough answers. And yet many turn to standardized testing results as that which definitively determines success in schools.  We tend to put a lot of stock in the results. But I wonder if we really know what we are investing in.

And so, we begin. At least the kids are given the time they need to do their best. It is not a timed test. At least that stress element is not a factor. Last year it took the majority of kids seven days to complete the test. Seven days of lost contact and instructional time. Not sure the benefits are worth the cost. Not sure at all.

Happy Monday, all.

Growth not a Grade: Project 180, Day 135

Wrapping up a great week in 211 today. I was so pleased with the kids’ poems. But it was not as much about their poems as it was about their challenging themselves to get on stage. For some it was easy peasy, but for others it was a real challenge. But they did it anyway. And in the 180 classroom they did it for their own personal growth, not a grade. And that’s the beauty, that’s the supreme satisfaction I have gotten this year with grades being off the table. I have been continually amazed by the majority of the kids’ dedication to learning this year, despite the extreme shift in approaches.

As I look ahead to next year, I will seek to pull back a bit from the extreme, but I will continue to place feedback and growth at the center of our experience, not grades–at least not in the traditional sense. Never going back there. Never. I’ve already begun working on a plan for next year, and I will unveil it in due time. In the meantime, I will continue to process what I have learned from this year–inside and outside 211, seeking to revise and refine the 180 approach.

Today in 211, we will finish up the last few poems, talk last minute strategies for the SBA, and conclude with Community Circle. Perfect end to a great week.

Happy Friday, all. Have a great weekend.

Digging for Awesome: Project 180, Day 134

Morning, all. Slept in a bit. Tired today. Sorry for the short post.

Yesterday, in our ongoing efforts to face our fears of public speaking, the kids began reading their poems in front of the class. As they read, their peers evaluated them on poise, voice, life, gestures, and speed. They, then provided post-it note feedback, pointing out one “well-done” and one “needs work.” The speakers then collected all the post-its, so they could see and process the peer feedback. They then wrote a short reflection, emphasizing what they learned about themselves as speakers and how they felt about the experience. That was the business end of the deal. My favorite part of the deal was watching some of my otherwise quiet kids emerge through their powerful poems, shining bright like the diamonds they are. All kids do, indeed, have awesome in them. The trick is helping them discover it. So glad this proved to be the trick for some. Looking forward to mining for more brilliant moments today as we continue the poems, as we continue the awesome.

Happy Thursday, all.

The Fourth “R”: Project 180, Day 133

Started the final quarter of my fifth year at EWU last night. Hard to believe that I have been teaching classroom management to college kids for half a decade now. Crazy to think that I almost passed up the opportunity, for it has been one of the most-fulfilling experiences of my professional life. It brings me joy every quarter, every year.

As always, our work begins with the fourth “R.” Relationships. I intimate to my college students that any success or failure I have had in the classroom has had everything to do with relationships. I emphasize this over everything else. This morning I stumbled upon the above graphic, and I cannot wait to share it with them next week. It perfectly captures the various and numerous elements that real relationships require. I am going to have my TA’s make a poster of this, so I can hang it in my classroom as a personal reminder and checklist to help guide my relationship building ventures day to day.  I was also thinking it could serve as a survey of sorts for the kids to evaluate how I did at the end of the year. Not only would it allow me to gain some general insight from their feedback, but also it would allow me to get some specific input on the different elements. It would help me determine if my walk matches my talk.

Busy day in 211 today. Performance task corrections and poems. The kids had to compose either a diamante, tanka, or pantoum poem, and today they will it to the class. Happy National Poetry Month.  Pushing kids out of their comfort zones.

Happy Wednesday, all.




Liar, Liar: Project 180, Day 132

Okay. Gonna finally sell out and give in. Finally gonna give my kids the chance to take a look at the interim assessments for the SBA. I shared this with them yesterday as I was once again reviewing with them next week’s testing schedule. And as I was doing so, I looked out on the sea of faces before me, and I found a great deal of discomfiture in their countenance, and though they didn’t say it, I heard it and it reverberated through my being. “Why are you doing this to us, Sy” A greater fraud I have never felt.

In the recent past I have  iterated, “I wish kids recognized that education is not something we do to them but for them.” But alas, these are only shallow, talk-the-talk words when the walk only reinforces what they have suspected all along. They are on a conveyor belt. They are being stamped and tweaked. They are merely products of a system made uniform to fit into the cogs of a yet larger system. And so, I can no longer employ my clever adage. We are not doing it for them. We are doing it to them. And it is unlikely to change any time soon. We will simply continue to tweak–instead of truly reform, and the industrialized machine will continue to belch smoke into an environment long endangered by our stubborn insistence to do as we have done.

The last fifteen years have seen a lot of tweaking, but they have seen little change, little reform. And with each knew emblem affixed to the grill, we find we are really just driving the same old car. Drove the WASL for a number of years. Then we rolled the HSPE into the drive, and the neighbors ooohed and ahhhed at our shiny new vehicle. But it was recalled rather quickly. And we were given the SBA, a sporty new model promising greater horsepower and better mileage. But as I am out on the road right now, and I close my eyes for a second, it is hard to discern if I am actually driving the new, improved model or the old vintage machine with which this all began. Factory sources hint at a new model on the horizon. But there’s been little enthusiasm among consumers. Most have decided that as long as we are stuck on the same old road, the car is of little consequence. Maybe it’s time for a new road.

Happy Tuesday, all.


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