I really missed this over the summer. Test day, best day!
ACP Time! Good luck. You've worked hard. Time to show off your skills.
There's a reason you read Turn and Talks. It's because we tell the real details of life in the classroom that other sources just don't know about or care to know. Sometimes teaching is gross. Sometimes STAAR testing contributes to that grossness.
According to my school STAAR scores will not be available until June 3rd
Anyone out there still use popsicle sticks to cold call on kids?
Test time best time? Not really, but it is that time of year. Here we go. Good luck students!
I hope everyone brought their walking shoes to school today because it's about that time! Active monitoring is so fun isn't?
One of the many countermeasures in place to halt student dishonesty, active monitoring is a band-aid solution to a larger issue with the way we use tests, talk about tests, and treat our students and teachers.
Instead of focusing on the school culture that encourages dishonesty to happen, we tighten down on teachers and students, increase the severity of penalties, and continue to ignore everything that cheating actually means.
Why do kids cheat? Low Self Esteem.
Why do Dallas students cheat?
Testing anxiety in Dallas Students
Dallas Teachers assuming kids are cheating just because they do well
Positive relationships with DISD students
Why do DISD Teachers and Students even bother with homework?
How we are sending the wrong signal in Dallas schools
Changing our view of success in Dallas schools
It's almost time for finals. The students are entering their last weekend before end of semester tests. If they don't know what they need to know now, chances are it isn't going to happen in the limited class time you have with them today. Am I saying do nothing today? Absolutely not.
How about some unstructured review time? Let them each look at whatever it is they feel they need to study and ask you questions as they come up? How about shoing a documentary related to the content and having a discussion about it?
There's no need to burn your students out right before the exam. Ease them into it. They'll appreciate it and will perform better test day.
Give your students a rest
The final push before Dallas ISD Testing Season
Testing Anxiety in Dallas ISD Schools
This is an increasingly prevalent debate on campuses. Which is more effective: teaching concepts and themes or teaching students to memorize the important information they need to know on a test?
I go back and forth. If the goal is simply to get them to pass an exam, then memorization, or "drill and kill" is without a doubt the most effective means of making that happen. I honestly don't even think there's an argument there. If you need to know that a triangle with two 45 degree angles has a 3rd angle of 90 degrees, that's a concept that our students just simply need to memorize. If we're talking proofs, theorems, scientific principles, those are things that can go into a flash card and become the valuable foundation for student success.
Now, if were talking about creating a life long interest and passion in a particular subject, then the answer becomes a little different. By simply drilling and practicing, students that are already disengaged have little incentive to jump in and pay attention. Students that struggle with reading, critical thinking, and processing will also struggle with the more theoretical portion of the subject. Teachers have to make a call in their classrooms if working through that process is beneficial to the students and to their own end of year evaluations, particularly if the scores are part of it.
Is it fair to the student to take them down this creative, interactive, thought based path that will allow them to stumble, make mistakes, and play with the material even if by test day they don't know enough to get a passing score? Is it right or just to triage the enjoyment part in order to make sure that students get the output on the exam that the teachers, parents, administrators, and the state are telling them they need? These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, but, again, it gets to the question of the purpose of education. What is success? How to we get our students there?
My conclusion is that you can and must do both, but teaching concepts creates enduring understanding and has a greater potential to spark interest from students. If multiple choice is the measure, then drill and kill will always be an option that teachers keep in their toolbox and rely on in times of crisis. If their livlihood is tied to it, then it's much more likely they will continue to make use of it. I don't think you can blame people for relying on something that works unless you show them a better way.
Rethinking Dallas Student Success
Standardized Testing in Dallas Schools
When Dallas Student scores are "too good"
Why Dallas Students Cheat
Testing anxiety in Dallas Students
The diagnosis, respect, and compassion toward mental health is not the same today as it was even 10-15 years ago. As teachers, sometimes our instinct is to assume students claiming mental distress are being lazy are lying. Sure, that happens, but we and our students would be better served if we listened more than we ignored.
I've confessed here that for most of my life I thought testing anxiety was made up and never really heard about it. Part of that is due to the acknowledgement of it being a relatively new thing, but, as someone who experiences anxiety daily and has had panic attacks before, the problem was more me refusing to connect my personal life with school and my students.
Let me break it down. I semi regularly talk to a New York based psychologist (not as a patient) about the human mind and she has helped me clear up a good deal of my unorganized thoughts about human behavior and the influences on it. Brilliant woman. Anxiety has triggers. While not exactly like PTSD, it can happen anywhere at any time to varying degrees of severity.
The first time a student told me they weren't "good at tests," my knee jerk reaction was to tell them they were wrong and that they needed to just believe in themselves. What a cop out of an answer. One of my best lazy teacher canned response moments. Embarrassing.
She presumably tried my horrible suggestions, but still failed. Here's where the tears started. I asked her to step outside and talked with her. This student, boasting a solid A in my class and many of her others, explained how she felt on test days. She said her stomach hurt and her heart raced. When she saw the test, she started sweat and envision a big red 63 her paper. Why that number? No idea, but it was real to her and she could see it. Before even picking up the pencil she knew she would fail and often she would.
Why? She knew the stuff. I watched her know it every single day. She sat front and center, she took notes, she participated, and she completed all her work on time, but she would fail every test.
When she described her experience on test days, it resonated with me. I don't have a fear of tests, but I do have a complicated relationship with illness and my own mortality. This is something that anxiety free people have a hard time understanding.
I experience anxiety at night most severely. Have you ever been 100% positive you were going to die? Not in the future, but before Christmas? I've been convinced with absolute certainty that I had cancer, West Nile Virus, SARS, Swine Flu, Strep Throat, and several other rare and hard to pronounce ailments. I claw at my own throat while I'm awake and apparently while I sleep to feel for inconsistencies in my glands that weren't there yesterday. Many nights I have a hard time sleeping or staying asleep and on rare occasions it's been extreme enough that I thought I was having a heart attack and went to the emergency room. At times, I've resigned myself to being a functioning lunatic.
Anxiety is like having a poorly trained talking bear in your bed. It never sleeps and always tells you what you're afraid of. When you go out into your daily life it follows you. You can SOMETIMES get it to calm down and reason with it. "This test will go alright because I studied." "Men in their mid 20s don't get osteoporosis." No matter what the mantra or how crazy your fears are, sometimes you can't make them go away and they overtake you, crippling you.
That's what I imagine my student experienced on test days. It wasn't until I saw myself in her shoes that I began to understand and was able to talk her through it. Not completely, but to the point where she could show everyone else the brilliance I see on a daily basis. She passed her ACP. What's most important is that, for even a moment, she was able to succeed in spite of her fears.
Dallas Student Testing Anxiety
Why Dallas Student Emotions Matter
Why "Back in my day" Hurts Dallas Education
I graded tests yesterday and the vast majority of my students did very well. They surpassed my goal of 80% class average and many well beyond that.
Great right? It should be, but my first reaction was to assume they cheated. My second thought was "I need to make this harder."
"What is wrong with me" to both of those thoughts. They SHOULD be doing well on the test. I should be happy when they do, not suspicious or immediately in search of a way to make sure they do poorly. Kids will cheat. That's a reality; however, the assumption shouldn't be automatically that they couldn't have done well without doing something shady.
Not only does that show a gross mistrust and lack of belief in my students, but it should a lack of self confidence. It shows that I don't believe my instruction can lead kids to perform well on a test. It shows that deep down I don't feel like my students are learning anything.
Do I think that is true? No. I think my kids are learning. They're showing me they're learning. At some point, you have to take a breath and believe you're doing a quality job with your students if they're producing quality results. No need to sabotage them as a reward.
Why Dallas Students Cheat
Testing anxiety in Dallas Students
Standardized Testing in Dallas Schools
An article I was reading in Mother Jones got me thinking about my day. The claim "I don't test well" isn't something I heard until I started teaching. I remember growing up and tests being an accepted part of my school routine; however, I do understand that the number of tests students are required to take has exploded in the past few years, especially when you compare urban and suburban schools. Some places, the numbers can be as extreme as urban students (9-12) taking well over 200% more standardized tests compared to their suburban peers.
Here's my question: With social emotional health becoming a more popular topic, how do I respond to testing anxiety?
For example, today I had a child ask if he could take today's test tomorrow or next week because he had been absent and didn't study as well as he would have liked. He felt unprepared and afraid of doing poorly on the test. I made him take it. I told him I understood not feeling prepared and know he missed a day, but I also explained that the test is the culmination of the last 3 weeks, that he knew the test would be today in advance, and that he had access to pre-recorded lectures from me + a study guide before he was absent. The summary? If he's not prepared, it's on him because he has had every opportunity to be. How did it go? He did well.
Last year I had a girl that would say that she hated tests and didn't test well. She would regularly perform well below her potential on our in class assessments. I continued to positively reinforce that I thought she was smart and all of her classwork proved that she knew the material on the test. She passed her ACP.
What is the right move then? Is their success based on being told they can do it and to deal with it because tests are a part of life, or is the proper response to remove tests because they cause undue stress on the students? I routinely go with the former, but with the opt out movement still going strong, should I allow my kids to say "no" or demand alternative assignments? A question for the education philosophers I suppose.
Student Emotions Matter
Grading Dallas Students on Mastery
Is Standardized Testing in DISD Schools Hurting DISD Students
Social and Emotional Health in Dallas Schools
Students Opt Out - Mother Jones
My biggest problem with testing and data is not the act of taking and collecting it, it's that nothing positive gets done with it. In many cases, the test scores are used more to punish teachers than improve our students. The necessary adjustments don't get made in the classroom to make everyone better. They become a tool in the blame game. I tend to feel more strongly on the eve of testing.
It seems like standardized testing season is every season these days. Fall and spring ACP exams, STAAR, AP exams, SAT, ACT, PSAT, etc. take up a huge chunk of teacher time in terms of prep. In terms of instruction, teaching the other stuff outside of the test and/or having fun with the content has gone out the window. The high school debate topic this year deals with domestic surveillance which is fun to watch our students dig into. An added bonus is getting to revisit and rethink some of my favorite articles on the topic.
Those of you who've read Giroux know that he's not the biggest fan of standardized testing, common core, or capitalism. For him they are all linked, with standardized testing and common core being symptoms of the larger problem with the capitalist system. His articles and books are always very well written and logically sound. It's hard to argue. It's even more difficult to come out of one of his books or articles not agreeing with him and seeing what he sees.
There's a lot of money in testing. There's even more money in reforming everything based on faceless data. What's more troubling is what's justified once the subjects are boiled down into ink on a paper rather than human beings with dynamic existences and needs. While I don't buy into the conspiracy of people trying to burn down public school districts and create charters out of the ashes, it's fairly easy to see the impact of test focused instruction on the classroom.
Specifically as it relates to the ACT and SAT which many DISD students will be taking soon, it's great that they are going to be able to access these tests cost free. It's unfair that they will get to do so with so little preparation compared to many of their peers. Test data does show a connection between socioeconomic status and performance, but it doesn't tell the whole story. The problem wasn't the cost of the test its the preparation of the test taker.
Colleges are starting to move away from the SAT and ACT as admissions requirements. Some argue that this will make admissions even more subjective than they already are, creating further barriers to students, like those in DISD, from getting into a quality university. Others say the tests are getting in the way of schools looking at the entire student rather than just their number on the paper.
Read the article. It's a tad long and verbose for lunch time/planning period reading, but it's a good one.
This blog is a comment on Sharon Grigsby’s article this morning. It’s going to be a long one, so if reading isn’t your thing, the short summary is that Mike Miles has burned his bridges and nobody is willing to give him an inch anymore. He doesn’t need to tell anyone to shove it because he basically already has. Read on if you want to know how I arrive at that conclusion and what the implications are.
The STAAR scores are out for 3-8 and they are underwhelming at best, disappointing at worst. Teaching is tough, testing is draining, and everyone is trying to meet the ever rising expectations of an ever demand administration. Here's the problem: the demands and and the compliance there of have not produced the desired results.
Why we care
We care because the Superintendent is unpopular. Yes we care about our students and we want to see them perform better, but the problem is there was a lot of over promising and even more under performance. If changes had been made in a more diplomatic way, the low scores would be a more "business as usual" disappointment instead of a "you destroyed the district and this is evidence" disappointment.
This will be used as evidence that the superintendent's plans have failed. While it's easy to look at it that way and it seems pretty apparent, I more think this is proof that the changes aren't better that what was here. Maybe this is semantics or me being more middle of the road (which I tend to be) but I've said before that to make a sweeping change, you have to prove that the change is better than the current system. Miles took that gamble and it seems that he's lost. At best, it's equivalent in effectiveness to what was there before, but by the numbers, if looking at them in a vacuum, it's worse.
He and everyone still in his dwindling camp will say that he needs more time. This si something people would be open to if he showed the same courtesy to teachers, principals, and others who have been reprimanded and swept out during his time at the helm. Miles' rule is falling. Crumbling would be more accurate. He will not last. He will exit with a whimper, not a bang. There will not be anymore big protests with opposing groups yelling at each other. There won't a huge surprise vote called by Trustee Nutall or Foreman. He will fade quietly out of DISD and then many here will rejoice. Why? His attitude and approach. It wasn't test scores or changes that did him in. It was him and only him.
Why that makes me sad
I was a fan of some of his ideas. I've always said there's a place at the table for any and all techniques you can prove work. It's about educating the kids. Not how, but that you are conveying information and having a positive impact on students. This will taint any "new" ideas or "reforms" that come anytime soon. The infighting has polarized Dallas and now everyone will be more resistant to change an innovation going forward. It only hurts the students. Who do we blame for that? Miles? Sure that's the easy target and, honestly, what he signed up for. I choose, instead, to lament what looks like the onset of the education dark ages in DISD. Keeping/firing Miles isn't the answer, the damage is done whether he stays or goes. There's no short term quick fix. Now is the time to brace ourselves for the coming drought and prepare to do what we as teachers have always done, fight to catch our kids up our kids come to us behind.
They're back! And just in time to ruin my test scores too! Who? My DAEP kids.
If I was a teacher that was obsessed with having high scores on my standardized exams, I'd be much angrier. I tend to lean more toward learning and enjoyment focused than scores focused. They don't have to be mutually exclusive, but when my kids performed lower than my expectations, but they still learned something and had fun doing it, I'm satisfied with that.
What is DAEP? It's the jail version of school. When students get banished from DISD campuses, they go here. I've never visited, but the frequent visitors tell me it's classrooms inches away from each other where your transition is only a few feet. No talking, no phones, no nonsense. They don't learn a ton there, they just wait out their sentence and are returned to the campus from whence they came.
Why is this a problem? They fall further behind there and that's part of the reason they were disruptive in the first place. Behavior issues come from a mix of internal and external factors. That's fancy talk for saying home life and self esteem. They are held for 30 or so days then they return and begin the same behavior they had when they left. Then they disrupt the other students until they earn a trip back.
I actually don't have a problem with schools that are more strict than others. Some of our students really need additional structure. Why should this only be a place stigmatized and reserved for the kids nobody wants? My campus already is that. Why can't DAEP be used as something more positive? Any ideas how? I'm all ears.
"I'm back mister! Did you miss me!?"
"No. Not really. But now that you're here, sit down and get to work. You're my student and I care about you. Let's learn."
Somehow they always make it back in time to reflect on me and my instruction despite being away from it for a significant amount of time.
There are some offenses or recurrence of offenses that should earn them a permanent spot there. More on that later today.
We talked about the stress of DISD STAAR testing and how it impacts our students a litle bit earlier.
Luckily, I happened upon some of my strudents from last year preparing for the US History STAAR. Panicked, they said they weren't ready. I probed further with a few questions to see what that really meant. They know bits and pieces of history, but they don't quite know how it all fits together. Dates, facts, names, and other information swims around in their heads wating to be triggered by a multiple choice question. The problem was that they "didn't know what the questions would be." I told them that that wasn't a problem. They need to trust themselves and believe in their knowledge. When did students start expecting to know all the questions going into a test?
STAAR season has hit DISD and they've moved me again. Today isn't as bad as last time, but I do have quite a bit of time to think about what the students i'm missing are doing.
High stakes testing doesn't make anyone comfortable. The teachers are stressed becauset they will be evaluated by circumstances largely out of their control. Sure, teaching is part of the equation, but we all know that if kids don't work or pay attention, their grades will suffer. If kids don't study, they won't perform well. If they are hungry or tired their scores will drop. Much of that is out of control of the teachers and part of the reason so many teachers are against being evaluated using the tests themselves.
The students are stressed out because these STAAR tests are what their graduation hinges upon. There are seniors running around who are still trying to pass their freshman tests so they can graduate, having failed 3 years in a row. Is that right? Is that fair? No, but to who? Classes that aren't STAAR tested get a fraction of the attention and resources from both the school and the students, much to the frustration of DISD teachers not in STAAR tested subjects.
What makes it worse? There is now a loophole that allows you to sidesteop the whole process. So what's the point? We put all this pressure on our kids and for what? if we're just going around the tests, then why have them in the first place? this is all about sending the right signals to DISD students. If we don't, it risks everything.
All this talk about alternative graduation requirements has me thinking day and night about our requirements for students. The past two days we've written blogs about DISD students and Dallas graduation requirements. The article that sparked it all was this DMN article about letting kids sidestep the STAAR tests and graduate anyway. We'll be talking about this idea on our weekly Dallas education podcast to come out on Monday, but what has me really in thought this morning? The wrong and mixed signals we are sending our kids.
Yesterday, we talked about the potential for alternative graduation requirements in Texas, which affects Dallas ISD students. I agree that it would be troubling to start letting students side step the process by just meeting before a committee that could potentially allow them to graduate without having passed some or any of the tests. If we are going to place as much emphasis on testing as we currently do, then we have to keep that system strong. If the tests are necessary, then we shouldn't be invalidating them by making them skippable. What this highlights for me is that we aren't practicing what we preach. If we are saying that differentiating instruction is important, then we need to be differentiating assessments too for our DISD students. We've talked about differentiating instruction at length in our weekly Dallas education podcast and this is why it is so critical across the board. If attendance is important, we need to stop letting students in the Dallas education system get credit when they haven't shown up. The system is inconsistent and that's why it is struggling to produce students who are prepared and competitive. It does let the kids choose to do less. It does send the wrong signal. What do we need to do? Bring back strong vocational programs and partnerships with local Dallas businesses to give our students an opportunity to find a passion within school. Then and only then should students be given an opportunity to circumvent a STAAR and still graduate. More on that in another blog.
How do we determine Talented and Gifted? A better question is, "how SHOULD we determine Talented and Gifted?" The reality is many kids are sorted in to TAG programs from an age where the only requirement is to be able to spell T-A-L-E-N-T-E-D and G-I-F-T-E-D earlier than their peers. We've started closing doors on kids that keep out kids that bloom later and lock in kids who have long wilted. More after the jump.
Is asking teachers to make different lessons, different versions of lessons, and different methods of teaching those lessons all for one class period too much? Probably. Will the world differentiate anything for our students? No. Is it necessary to ensure that all our kids are successful in school? Yes; however, that's a bigger question that goes beyond the classroom to standardized testing and learning as a whole. This blogger says differentiated instruction (DI) is critical, but if you believe in DI, you CAN'T believe in standardized testing as well. More after the jump.