Slice of Life March Challenge Day 1! Let’s Begin!

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Slice of Life Small LogoLet’s Begin!

March is a month of beginnings. The ISTEP standardized test starts today in our district, the Slice of Life Story Challenge begins, and the March Book Madness reading games begin. There is so much going on, I cannot seem to keep track!

“Let us begin.” I’m not sure who coined the phrase, but I am ready. March marks the time in the school year that I look forward to, for many reasons, but mostly because it’s the time when we finally get to show what we learned all year.  It’s an exciting time of year, and I welcome March with open arms.

Let’s Begin!

 

What Are We Going To Do About The Test? A Teacher’s Message

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It’s February, and as a parent of a school-age child, you may have heard that you can opt out of state standardized testing. According to the No Child Left Behind Act, states must provide standardized testing, and the media, school leaders, and fellow parents all have advice for you: the test is deceptively important, the test is unduly difficult, the test is exorbitantly expensive, the test is illegally used to evaluate teachers, the test is unfairly deciding your child’s future, etc. Whatever you have heard, you have parts of the information. You will never have the whole story. None of us have the correct answer for you. You must decide whether your child will take part in the testing, but here’s why I think it’s okay for students to go ahead and take the standardized test:

1) Educational experiences end with assessments. After you study, there is a test. You have to prove yourself. I recently took another certification test to add to my teaching license. I passed with no points to spare, but I passed. If I had not signed up, paid, and took practice tests on the computer, I would not have the certification. I’m not happy about the experience (especially the money part), but at the same time, I did get what I wanted by making the effort and doing my best. This also goes for sports activities: you try out for the team, you practice, and you win (or lose) games/meets/championships. Are you happy you’re on the team? Are you a better person for having the experience? Sometimes it’s better to participate than be left out. Another life-changing event that comes to mind is the driver’s license. Even if you don’t take a driver’s education course, you must pass the written and driving parts of the test to receive a license to drive. If you don’t take the test, you remain unlicensed. Why not try?

2) The standardized test, in my experience, does cover the state standards. Every year, I teach concepts of reading and writing: theme, point of view, characterization, grammar sense, writing “on-the-fly” to persuade or inform. Even though I don’t see the questions in advance, I do teach so that students will learn skills that will improve their reading and writing over the course of a school year. I’m not so concerned about the actual test score number, but rather if the child understands more about reading and writing than before I taught him/her. All I want for my students is the best.

3) Well-meaning, educated, caring people do understand that the test is a snapshot. No one test can show everything there is to know about a student. It’s impossible. A score is a number, a piece of data that we should use as such, along with many other factors, to form a picture of what a child can do at any one point in time. Teachers, parents, and even public leaders won’t remember a child’s test score from sixth grade when that child graduates from high school, but we will celebrate a wonderful accomplishment during the graduation ceremony.

When a child gets into trouble, the parent disciplines according to the infraction. After taking the phone away, a mom hears, “You don’t know me at all!” But the parent, over the course of many experiences does know what is best for their child at that moment. Similarly, the state government employs consequences for a school (or even a teacher) that doesn’t “make the grade.” It’s called accountability. I understand enough to know that one test, created by a corporation that makes money selling their product to a state’s school districts cannot decide what my students are capable of. And yet, if my students fail, I fail. I must find out why – reflect and reteach, adjust, and learn from the experience. I want what is best for my students, as well as myself, and my school.

A test is a piece of information. Thinking about testing as separate events that happen throughout life, I relay a message to the parent: help your child see this standardized test for what it is – a data point in a moment of time – and encourage your child to take the test seriously and do the best they can. That’s all any of us should want for our children. The best.

Disclosure: This post reflects my own opinions, thoughts, and experiences.

SOLSC Day 15: Home Again and Reading

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Slice of Life Small LogoThank you to the ladies at Two Writing Teachers (www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com) for hosting the March Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Home Again and Reading

I have to say, that was a great weekend off! My sister’s birthday celebration was longer than expected, but very nice. (I’m too old to be out past midnight!) Sleeping in…ahh! (I probably don’t need further explanation for that one, right?) I don’t know if I could handle any more fabulous food. (I’m stuffed!) Now it’s time to get back to business.

I finally got home. It was nice to sit on the passenger side of the car today: sun shining, breeze blowing, and me…reading! Thanks for driving, my lovely daughter! I read articles, news from the past week, and some tidbits sent by friends.

Some of the reading hit me a little hard today. This “testing issue” in our country is way out of control. People are talking, and I think that’s a good thing. But I wonder about the actions that will follow as a result. I also worry about how the talk affects our demeanor, our attitude, our job focus. I need to keep in mind that I’m at work to do a job, and do it the best I can for my students and for myself.  I’m not sure how all the politics of education are affecting everyone else (although I’ve read MANY people’s opinions), but I know it’s affecting me in a negative way, and I don’t like it.

I’ll write more about this when I have my wits about me again. For the time being, I have to say that I will keep reading and sharing. Education is the most important topic, as far as I’m concerned. The words are out there. I’m waiting for the right answers.

Slice of Life Story Challenge: Day 4

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Slice of Life Small LogoThe March Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by http://www.twowritingteachers.wordpress.com.

Standardized Testing

This was our second day of standardized testing at my school. Our ISTEP is a pain, a problem, a political issue for the history books. Literally.  The test covers our new Indiana State Standards, since we dropped Common Core. No need for the PARCC, we have our own ISTEP, which is supposedly more rigorous and wonderful. That is, until we found out that it was going to take 6th graders around 10 hours to take (total time).

After our governor heard about the length of the test, he signed an executive order, shortening the test. So this week we are taking about 1/2 of the Applied Skills part of the test. Less time, less stress? Not really. Still a big deal.

The students were awesome today! They took their time, working diligently. I was proud of them. I hope their scores show great things come June! We will see!

First Reaction: I Saw the ISTEP Scores…and the News

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I read the news from our local TV sources about the state’s ISTEP scores, released this week. I thought about what I would say to others who saw the same results. As I teacher, I have a vested interest, but more importantly, as a citizen of this state (which is experiencing an education crisis), I want to know more about what I can do to help my students learn. As I read, my first reaction is that scores are basically flat. Some scores are tenths of a percent higher than last year, and some are tenths of a percent lower (remember: this is my first glance — no analysis yet). Not horrible, not worse than last year, but still not the improvements and growth I want to see.

After reading several comments from the public, (people can log in to the news websites and record opinions, etc. under the published stories) I thought, “Why are you doing this to yourself?” As I perused the snarky, mean-spirited words — writers voicing their frustrations about public schools vs. private schools, bad news, political views, arguing with each other instead of making suggestions —  I felt defensive. Then I stopped myself. “No way. These people are not teachers, administrators, or students at these schools, nor do they know what these standardized test scores really mean.” I wrote this instead:

“Bad-mouthing each other/schools does not help the children. Start the education at home, and then build at school. Do you read to your child every day? Do you help them with their math? Are there clubs/sports/social activities that your child does that enhance getting along with others and learning life-long skills? Teachers, we need to improve as well. Do we attend PD (professional development) with open minds and willingness to change to best practices of instruction? Do we plan and implement lessons and units with authentic learning goals in mind, or are we just teaching to pass the test?…The buck stops with me. Goal-setting…”

My goal is always to be the best teacher I can be. Some years are better than others, and there is always room for improvement. My goal for my students is to become life-long learners and leaders who know how to read and write, speak appropriately, and act intelligently —  ideals that the published standardized test numbers and percents just don’t show.

Testing: Taking Its Toll

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I read more than enough news this week about standardized testing in the country and how the focus on these annual assessments is draining our faith in the American education system. Tonight I would like to share my thoughts on standardized testing, as I experience it from three perspectives: 1) teacher in a public school, 2) mom, and 3) former student who took these tests when I was young. Please be advised, these are my opinions and experiences, and they are not meant to persuade, coax, or otherwise insist that any person agrees with me. I’m only sharing because this is my blog, and this issue means a great deal to me at this time.

1) I am a public school teacher. I love teaching! I love my students, and I work to encourage them to be intelligent, thoughtful, active citizens of our country. In the last few years, I have noticed that the emphasis on testing/assessing started to hinder their performance in school, especially the creative thinking that I once saw. (Every 3 weeks we assess progress, according to the state standards; each quarter we monitor progress and predict; and we participate in state standardized testing in the spring.) Students, in general, are very concerned about their test scores. They want to do well. They know how to act. But sometimes, I look at their faces, and I think, “Oh, you poor things!” I just wanted you to read a book and talk with me about it, and we could recommend our “next-on-the-list” books for each other. We could write whatever we want, and revise and edit for publishing, like real writers do! Students have actually asked me, “Is this for a grade?” or “Is this going to be on the test?” I tell them the truth. “Everything we do is meant to help you to learn. You can pass the test if you are an active learner.”

Parents are under pressure now to help their kids pass the standardized tests, so the school can pass, so the state can pass. Parents want what is best for their children, so they do whatever it takes. The state governments have set up several ways for parents to take control of their students’ learning, including participating in school choice programs, accepting vouchers that lead away from public schools, and opting out of testing altogether. One problem is the parents are being forced to make decisions about education with no expertise in the actual ways that education works. Parents are acting on what they hear from the media. “The kids are not performing as they should, and you should do something about it.”  What should they do? Listen to those who are not educators? Apparently. From my experience, I see more test anxiety in students in the past 5 years, and less overall authentic student achievement, than I did in the first 5 years of my teaching career. I believe the media does have something to do with it.

Another problem with standardized tests is that they are given at an inopportune time during the school year. This year, our state has a round of testing before, and a round after, spring break. I wonder how that makes sense? Schools spend most of the school year focusing on scores students received last year, and instructing with a goal of increasing scores for this year. Of course, I DO want my students to improve and grow, but I want them to learn, improve, and grow all year, not just for spring testing season.

One last problem I have noticed is that state governments have also encouraged school districts to evaluate teachers — reward and punish them —  based on their students’ test scores on the standardized tests. This has caused much havoc, as children are not robots, and they will not perform each test day as the government would choose. It is insane that a teacher may or may not receive a raise, or may or may not be judged as a “satisfactory” teacher based on a few hours of testing in the spring of the school year. Now I DO agree that we teachers need to be held accountable! We should be instructing, and our students should be learning, based on the standards, over the course of a school year. My goal is student achievement. Of course! But I do not see how student achievement can be assessed by only a standardized test. There is so much more to it than that! I remember a slogan from years back: “A student is more than a test score.” It was a goofy campaign, but the message was clear. We want our students to succeed in life, and life is not one test.

2) I am a mom. I NEVER remember my daughters coming home from school, worried about taking “the test.” They did their homework. They did their projects (with little help from me, by the way). They learned to think, write, and research on their own when they wanted to know more about a subject. They knew that their teachers were not to blame for their failures. Yes, sometimes people fail. But we don’t let failing define us; we allow failing to teach us lessons, and we grow.”

3) I am a product of the public school system. I NEVER remember being worried about the standardized tests when I was a student. I do remember our teachers mentioning that they would be coming up soon, and those teachers taught us how to fill in bubbles on the answer sheets, make our best choices, and encouraged us to “try our best.” We knew the material. Our teachers had taught us what we needed to know. I passed the tests each time I took them. I was never a “star student,” but I did my best, and that was all anyone was asking for.

Let us help today’s students to become life-long learners again. As you read the news about testing students, consider what is best for kids, and not what is popular according to the government or the media. Make wise decisions, based on real research from education experts, teachers, and school leaders. Let’s find solutions that will help our students to meet goals greater than passing a test that takes just a few hours out of their lifetimes.

 

 

 

Day 12: SOLSC Slice of Life Story Challenge

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What I Really Want

I want to curl up on the couch with a book, or sit on the sofa and let someone else cook.

I want to teach my students to read, and talk about characters, and write with a need

to say something important, to fight for what’s right; to care about learning, to end the world’s strife.

I want to vacation with family and friends. I want this winter to come to an end!

I want my kids to grow up and be free, to be who they want, to get jobs, and succeed.

I want to be able to sit back and relax. I want to enjoy life without feeling taxed.

I don’t really want much, I just want to say, “Thank you” for letting me live through today.

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