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20 Articles Categorized in "Elementary"

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | February 18, 2014

Randy Dorn Favors Using Achievement Tests on Teacher Evaluations


20110830-203622-pic-719702789By Tom

In a recent guest editorial in the Seattle Times, Washington State School Superintendent Randy Dorn spoke in favor of using student achievement tests on teacher evaluations. Basically his rationale boils down to two reasons:

1. The state’s NCLB waiver is at risk. The Department of Education granted us a waiver from the onerous requirements of NCLB, but takes a dim view of our teacher evaluation system’s provision that student test scores can be used for evaluative purposes, instead of mandating that they must.

2. Using student test scores will make teacher evaluations more consistent, since these are tests all students must take, as opposed to district-based tests, which vary from district to district.

Let me respond to his second reason first, since it’s the weakest. As we’ve reported time and again on this blog, a main argument against using student test scores is that they aren’t consistent. The fact is, only a small minority of teachers teach in “tested” grades or subjects. Consider my school, which has 34 certificated employees. These include four music teachers, one PE teacher, one librarian, six special education teachers and one counselor. We also have three kindergarten teachers, four first grade teachers, three second grade teachers, and three third grade teachers.

None of these people teach grades or subjects for which state achievement tests could be used for their evaluations.

We also have three fourth grade teachers, three fifth grade teachers and two sixth grade teachers. That’s only eight teachers. Eight out of 34 teachers – less than 24% – for whom state tests could be used. The rest of our faculty would have to use district or classroom based tests. Yet Mr. Dorn argues that using state tests would be more consistent? How?

On the other hand, his other argument – the risk of losing the waiver – does make sense. I have to assume that Randy Dorn, Governor Inslee, or both of them have asked Washington’s congressional delegation to press Department of Education officials about the true risk to Washington’s waiver. And the fact that Mr. Dorn is still arguing in favor of capitulating to the DOE’s demands means he doesn’t think they’re bluffing. Either that or he just doesn’t want to take the chance that they aren’t.

And that’s where he and I agree. Like Dorn, I’m not willing to gamble that much money ($38 million) for the sake of fairer evaluations for teachers like me. Put another way, I’m willing to use state achievement tests instead of more meaningful district or classroom based tests as part of my evaluation if it means ensuring our NCLB waiver.

Mark Gardner | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Games, Life in the Classroom, Parent Involvment, Social Issues | February 2, 2014

Playgrounds and Education Policy


File52eec04d490efBy Mark

This story was circulating on social media recently, and despite my initial reactions, it appears to be true.

A primary school in New Zealand has changed rules around recess as a result of research conducted at local universities. The essential finding: fewer rules on the playground resulted in "a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing" (from the article linked above).

At my own son's elementary school, students are apparently not permitted to run during recess. That's right, no running during outdoor recess. Only brisk walking. And forget about tag, let alone touch football. I am not an elementary school teacher or staff member, so sure I can sit over here and judge, but the findings from this (albeit small) research project where children were allowed to be children during recess seems to me yet another indicator of how our drive to protect children from harm actually harms them more than the bumps, bruises and grass-stained knees we want to spare.

Sadly, this article above also makes this statement:

[M]any American school administrators do not feel they have the freedom to eliminate playtime rules the way Swanson [the primary school in New Zealand] did. And they certainly don’t see it as a zero-cost game. Parents drive our nation’s tendency toward more restrictive playground rules because parents are the ones who sue schools when their children get hurt.

It is all very interesting to me both as a parent and as an educator.

I wonder: what if a whole education system had no externally ascribed rules? Would the flaws we are trying to eliminate with laws, rules, and policies diminish (and achievement increase) as analogous to the positive changes witnessed on that playground in New Zealand? 

Tom | Education, Education Policy, Elementary | January 25, 2014

Why I support SB 6082


ImagesBy Tom

One of the ironies of my job is how lonely it sometimes feels. I’m surrounded by kids all day long, yet I seldom get to talk to the teacher who works right next to me in the hallway. That irony was brought home last week when I noticed some of her kids working in the hall on a social studies project involving Native Americans. As it happened, my class was also studying Northwest Tribes, and both classes would have undoubtedly benefitted had the two of us planned that unit together, instead of in total isolation.

But unless Olympia does something, it’s only going to get worse.

Currently, students have to receive 1000 hours of instruction per year. But this only has to be a district average, which means some kids have more than a thousand, some less. According to legislation passed last year, next year’s students are supposed to have six hours of instruction per day, 180 days per year. That works out to 1080 hours. That’s for secondary students; for elementary students the total has to be 1000 hours.

Teachers, for the most part, will probably not notice the increase in hours. What they will notice, however, is the DECREASE in collaborative time. Take my district, for example. We have a waiver from the state to convert five of those 180 days into professional development days, which are divided into district-wide PD, building time, collaborative time and individual time. The thinking is that the decrease in instructional time is offset by the benefits gained through the professional development of the teachers. Up until now, the state has agreed with that thinking and granted our district a waiver, year in and year out.

Last year the Legislature changed the law. But this is the same Legislature that passed TPEP, which includes a mandate for teachers to collaborate. Districts like mine, therefore, are stuck in the position of mandating that teachers work together, yet will be unable to provide time for that to happen.

Enter SB 6082, sponsored by Senators McAuliffe and McCoy. This bill simply includes language that allows teacher collaboration to count as part of those 1000 or 1080 hours. (By the way; recess, passing time and parent-teacher conferences are already counted.) This doesn’t address the issue of district time, building time and individual time, but it does allow teachers to work collaboratively.

There are other ways to increase collaborative time, of course, but they involve money. And it’s looking more and more like the Legislature is holding tight to the purse-strings. Which is why SB 6082 was introduced.

It makes total sense. If we value teacher collaboration – and we apparently do, since it’s mandated by law – then we should include it in the school day.

And maybe I’ll be a little less lonely.

Tom | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | January 13, 2014

At least there's one school that won't be wasting time on test-prep this year


Wasting-timeBy Tom

In years past, February marks the beginning of “Test-Prep Season” in my classroom. It isn’t all we do, of course, but I try to weave activities and practice assessments into my plans, gradually increasing the intensity throughout the late winter and early spring until mid-April, when it’s basically an all-out siege.

But not this year.

This year I’m not doing of that. This year I’m teaching, and my students are learning, all year long; including the second half of April.

And here’s why: this year our school board decided that each school in our district (Edmonds) could decide how they wanted to transition from the MSP to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. Option one was to take both. Option two was to take only the MSP. Option three was to field test the SBA and not take the MSP. We chose option three, in the most lopsided vote we’ve ever had, even though the results of the SBA would not be released.

I voted with the majority on this one; in fact I was a leading voice in the discussion that preceded the vote. Option one, taking both tests, seemed ridiculous. Our faculty is trying to become familiar with the CCSS, and that takes time. Getting the students ramped up for another round of MSPs also takes time, and time is the scarcest resource we have. It also takes time for students to become familiar with the new standards, which is what they’re doing this year. Taking two tests on two different sets of standards seemed like a bad idea.

Option two, taking only the MSP, was another non-starter. In order for our students and staff to get a handle on the new standards, it seemed imperative that we get a chance to see the new assessment this year. Besides that, the new tests are all on-line, and piloting the tests will give us a chance to see if our technology can handle the demand. Furthermore, we wanted to have our students’ scores become part of the pilot pool. We have a relatively high-need population; when it comes time to set the benchmarks, it’s good to have a broad student base.

But the most important reason for me was the simplest one. I love to teach and I love to watch my students learn. Test-prep is not teaching and taking practice tests is not really learning. And when you’re in a classroom and you’re not teaching or you’re not learning, you’re wasting your time.

I hate wasting time.

Tom | Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Parent Involvment, Social Issues | January 1, 2014

Thirty Million Words


LogoBy Tom

There’s a kid in my class who I’ll call Arthur. Although he’s in fourth grade, he started the year reading at about the first grade level and his math skills were even lower. He wrote nothing. When we discussed his situation during a September Child Study meeting we decided to “pull out all the stops.” And so we did. Arthur gets pulled out for one-on-one phonics lessons every day from 9:30 to 10:00. He goes directly from there to his small-group reading lesson with our special ed teacher. From 11:30 to noon he receives in-class support for writing and organization skills. At 2:15 he gets an hour of math support.

That’s pretty much “all the stops.” Fortunately, he has started to making progress; if you were to draw a line representing his academic growth since September, it would have an upwards trajectory. But if that line were a ski slope, you would not tremble at the top. And as far behind as he was four months ago, he is even farther behind now; his classmates, after all, have also made progress, but at a faster rate.

It didn’t have to come to this. A famous study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley resulted in the Thirty Million Words Initiative. Simply put, they found that parent-child communication has an enormous impact on a child’s development and academic success. The name of the initiative reflects the optimal number of words a child should hear from his parents before entering school.

I have never met Arthur’s dad, and apparently neither has he. I have met his mother, though, on several occasions. She is very quiet, somewhat sullen, with the air of a person who looked at the low hand she was dealt and folded pretty early in the game. Which was about when Arthur was born.

Arthur is exactly the kind of student that TMW wants to prevent. Had his mother known how important it was to simply talk to her child, perhaps he wouldn’t be in his current circumstances. Perhaps I’d feel a little more certain that he’ll be in fifth grade next year. Perhaps his ski slope would be a little scarier.

We’ll never know. But I do know this: The most important thing non-teaching education stakeholders can do to support education in this country is to help parents help their children. And Thirty Million Words is an example of how simple that support can be. Talk, after all, is cheap. But apparently it’s pretty important, especially early in a child’s life.

Because sadly, fourth grade is a little bit too late.

CSTP--Staff | Assessment, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Social Issues | December 11, 2013

Teacher of the Year is Dyslexic


Jeff Dunn 1

Our guest blogger, Jeffrey Dunn is 2014 Regional Teacher of the year from ESD 101. Jeffrey is an educator, cultural critic, & backwoods modernist currently teaching in Deer Park, Washington. He invites others to read bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Richard Brautigan.


Try and imagine the impact this fact has on my students. No longer am I a model of all that is correct. No longer am I the authority on all that is academic. In this case, I am learning disabled as defined in Washington State law (WAC 392-172A-03055). This law reads that learning disabilities may include “conditions such as perceptual disabilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia.” In short, I am not the model of perfection students are led to believe all we teachers are.  

Researchers from the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity's Sally Shaywitz (Overcoming Dyslexia) and the College de France and  Institut national de la santé et de la recherche médicale'sStanislas Dehaene (Reading in the Brain) estimate that between 10-20% (call it the midpoint, 15%) of all human populations are dyslexic (variation  is a result of definition and assessment practice). Think of it, in any class of 25, we should expect 4 of our students to be dyslexic. My thirty-six years of teaching experience has proven this statistic to be true.

Tom | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary | December 8, 2013

Let's Build a Waiver Loophole


LoopholeBy Tom

Twelve years ago, George Bush signed “No Child Left Behind” into law. Among other things, the law requires that by the end of this school year every student in America has to meet standard. That level of success will never happen, of course, not even in Finland, but no one has bothered to change that part of the law. Instead, the Obama Administration has used that law as leverage to advance their own educational agenda, which includes expanded school choice, adoption of the Common Core State Standards and tougher teacher evaluation laws. They’ve done this by granting waivers from the law's punitive aspects to states that adopt certain policies.

Washington State received one of those waivers, along with 31 other states. And for the most part, we’ve toed the line. We now allow charter schools, we’re transitioning to the CCSS, and we have a brand-new Teacher and Principal Evaluation Project. (TPEP)

But there’s a problem. As written, TPEP allows state assessment scores to be used for teacher evaluation. The feds want TPEP to require that they be used. The feds have recently notified our state, warning us that we risk losing our waiver unless TPEP is changed so that it mandates the use of state assessment data. 

As a teacher, I can see no possible way in which state test scores can be used as a valid basis for my evaluation. I teach fourth grade; my students took a state test last year and they’ll take another one this year. But it’s not the same test. Last year they took a third grade test and this year they’ll take a fourth grade test. The smart kids in my class passed their test last year and they’ll probably pass their test this year. The kids who are struggling this year didn’t pass their test last year and they’ll have a tough time passing this year’s test.

CSTP--Staff | Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Mentoring, Teacher Leadership, Travel | October 5, 2013

Translation from Finnish


The following is a guest-post from Sarah Applegate, an NBCT teacher librarian at River Ridge High School in Lacey Washington. She is passionate about quality information literacy instruction, working with teachers to provide a wide range of resources for students, and dark, bitter Finnish licorice.

I have a confession.  I am a “Finnophile” (“one who loves all things from Finland”) and a “ChauvaFinn” (“one who displays excessive pride in Finland”) yet I hold an American passport.  My friends and colleagues will tell you that since I returned from a Fulbright study in Finland in 2011, I have sought out every opportunity to reflect upon and share what I learned and observed during my research on the Finnish education and library system.  Some might say I sought out TOO many opportunities- during casual dinners, on long runs, and while watching our kids at the park,  to share memories, insights and observations from my time in Finland. While embracing my Finnish obsession, I have continued to reflect on what I observed while in Finnish schools and libraries. I have constantly considered how schools in Washington could learn from Finnish education practice and translate them into Washington state settings.

On September 21, I was finally able to make connections between what I had learned and observed in Finland through a Finnish Education Conference, funded by the US Department of State with support from CSTP and WEA. We gathered 50 teachers from Washington to hear and think about what makes Finland’s education system work and how their approaches could be used in Washington state schools. I brought together four US Finland Fulbright teachers, as well as two Finnish teachers, to speak on how Finland organizes their education system, designs and delivers instruction and trains their teachers. During the morning, participants were able to learn about Finnish education practices and in the afternoon, teachers a chance to “translate” what they had learned to their own teaching context and plan for potential implementation of Finnish practices in their Washington state setting. What we translated has some promising implications for us in our schools - read on to see what we cooked up.

Janette MacKay | Assessment, Education, Elementary, Professional Development, Social Issues | October 3, 2012

Teacher Fever



I woke up in the middle of the night, and knew something was wrong. I was cold, hot, shaking, queasy, everything ached. I stumbled into the bathroom to find a thermometer and wait…


yup. A fever. Now it’s definitive. I’m sick.

Like somehow I didn’t know that until after the little number popped up on the thermometer.

Well, it’s probably just a little virus, or something I ate. Uncomfortable, unpleasant, but not serious I consoled myself as I curled up on the floor by the toilet where I would be spending the next few hours.

A temperature tells us our immune system is working. It’s fighting off the weakness in the body and in a day or two, we will be well again. Most fevers don’t send us running off to the doctor. Unless they persist…

A fever tells us something is wrong. But by itself, it doesn’t tell us what is wrong or how serious it might be. It takes a while to figure out if you need to call in sick, or check into the hospital.  Just get some rest, or run expensive tests using big humming medical equipment. These are the thoughts running through my head at 2am on the floor of the bathroom.

What does any of this have to do with teaching? Well, since I’m home sick today, I’m sitting here looking at my school’s MSP scores from this past year. We, like many schools, seem to have a bit of a fever. Our scores aren’t where we’d like them to be. They certainly aren’t terrible, but they’ve declined two years in a row. I guess you would call that a fever in reverse.  Anyway, it appears that we’re a bit under the weather. However, the numbers that I’m looking at don’t tell the whole story. It’s a small school. A few kids having a bad day are enough to change our scores from one year to the next. Listen to the staff conversations about this, and we all have an idea what caused the trouble. But what we don’t have is expensive medical equipment that can give us a definitive diagnosis. All we have is the number on the thermometer.

Do we need more professional development to help improve our instruction?

Or new curriculum?

Or a new intervention program?

Or new technology?

Or stronger anti-poverty initiatives?

Or maybe a better thermometer?

Maybe the one we have is broken.

After all, in the past few years we’ve changed our test from the WASL to the MSP, and then changed the administration of that test from paper and pencil to computer based. It’s hard to compare year to year using an inconsistent tool. Looking at National Assessment (NAEP) scores from the past ten years, our 4th grade state scores have remained relatively unchanged.  It doesn’t seem to matter what we do: which curriculum we adopt, which diagnostic test we administer, which RtI model we embrace. The scores have not wavered in the past decade.

According to the Flynn Effect, we are getting more intelligent over time. If that’s true, then seriously, why aren’t our test scores rising?

I’m not saying we can’t or shouldn’t do anything to try and raise student achievement. On the contrary, I think we need to do even more…way more…to figure out how to level the playing field, provide meaningful, appropriate instruction, and assess it in ways that aren’t skewed by politics. If after a decade this fever has persisted, it seems like it’s time to do more than just keep taking our temperature over and over.

Rob | Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Parent Involvment, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership | September 22, 2012

Guidance Team


By Rob

Struggling students are referred to the Guidance Team.  We identify the most significant barrier to student success.  We develop a plan to address the barrier.  We choose metrics to track the effectiveness of our plan.  We document our interventions and meet regularly to track progress. 

A teacher may bring a student to the team who’s reading below grade level.  We review the student’s reading data.  Perhaps we find evidence they need phonics support.  We align our school’s resources- this student will meet with our reading specialist for an 8 week phonics intervention.  This may lead to improved fluency and the student can then carry the meaning while reading.  As a result, their reading comprehension improves.  I’ve seen this happen.  It demonstrates some of the best work a school can do.

Janette MacKay | Education, Elementary, Teacher Leadership | August 9, 2012

Reality Check


Bursting BubbleWhat do you say when someone tells you they want to be a teacher?

You’ve probably had this conversation: some starry-eyed young college graduate starts to tell you about how he’s going to become a teacher so he can inspire his students and help the parents and do all these great projects and…

I remember when I was that young teacher how deflating it was to hear veteran teachers grumble about how things have changed and all the joy has been taken out of teaching. As a novice teacher, I vowed to never get all bitter and grumbly.

And now?

Rob | Current Affairs, Education, Elementary, Social Issues | February 29, 2012

The Budget Battle in the Other Washington


Spending on education is about 2% of the federal budget.  That sliver of the budgetary pie was $63.8 billion in 2011.  Even in the climate of debt reduction the President’s education budget for fiscal year 2013 is likely to see an increase.  But this budget will need to be approved by congress.  Given congress’ track record of bi-partisanship this debate could get ugly.

Rob | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Literacy, Mathematics | October 30, 2011

NCLB 2.012


By Rob

In a comment on my recent blog post Tom asks: "How can we rewrite the federal education bill so that it actually helps student learn?" This is a huge question. The difficult issues of funding, evaluation, accountability, standards, and testing must be addressed in a politically feasible manner. I don’t know what is feasible but I'd advocate for these ideas-

Standards: I support national standards. As a population we are more mobile than ever and there should not be a drastic difference in the curricular content among states. This requires a level of monitoring and evaluation of states and educational systems. Currently this evaluation and monitoring is done by comparing the separate standardized tests in each state. Although these tests are given to every student multiple times throughout their schooling it is difficult to draw definitive conclusions since these tests vary in rigor and content. Our testing system needs reform.

Testing: Evaluation and monitoring of education systems is necessary for oversight and informed policy decisions. However this does not require the current two week assessment window, every child tested, a huge financial cost, lost instructional time, and enormous pressure on educators and students. Instead this should be done with a smaller randomized sample of students and less impact and intrusion on instruction.

Summative tests, currently the HSPE and MSP (sort of), are assessments of learning given at the end of a particular educational stage. Passing these tests is necessary for students to receive credits or in some cases progress to the next grade. Presently these are a part of a broken testing system. With rare exception, the students who come into the tenth grade performing far below grade level are the ones who are not going to pass the High School Proficiency Exam.

This idea isn’t new but I support summative tests at grade 3, 5, 8, 10, and 12. Students should not exit that grade until they are proficient. How can a fifth grade teacher instruct a student on comparing and contrasting an author’s inferred message when the student is struggling to sound out every third word? How can an eighth grade math teacher approach the Pythagorean Theorem with a student who struggles to multiply?

I’ve heard teachers say (myself included) I could teach 35 students if they came to me proficient in the previous year’s content. Let’s go with this idea-

It begins with half day Pre-K for all students and full day kindergarten. Before they leave kindergarten they need to know their letter sounds, numbers, reading behaviors, and should be able to read and discuss the events in a predictable text. Those who are proficient enter a first grade class capped at 24 students (35 is too many first graders for any teacher no matter how academically proficient the kids are). Those who are approaching proficiency enter a first grade class capped at 16. Those far below proficiency enroll in a class capped at 12.

Schools would use their ongoing formative assessment in grades 1,2,4,6,7,9, and 11 to reconfigure classes and to carry the model forward. The student who enters second approaching standard but exits meeting standard would enroll in the third grade class with the highest student-teacher ratio.

This model has imbedded funding implications. The schools with the highest performing students would have higher class sizes and would be cheaper to staff as long as they continued to maintain high student performance. The schools with lower performing students, ostensibly with underserved populations, would have a lower teacher-pupil ratio and would receive more funding.

This model is not without its challenges. Schools would need to take great care not to track students by providing some students with continual remediation while others engage in higher order thinking. I believe smaller numbers of students is important when serving struggling students in reading and math it is also important for students not to be ability grouped for other content areas.

Can somebody tell me why this wouldn't be an improvement? Maybe this idea isn’t ready to be written into law but couldn’t congress earmark some funding so some districts could try it?


Rob | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Teacher Leadership | October 26, 2011

Corrective Action


Graph Down Arrow

By Rob

My school is in the third round of No Child Left Behind sanctions.  Among other procedures these sanctions call for ‘corrective action’ to be taken. 

Arriving at this point wasn’t a surprise.  It’s taken many years to get here.  Our school has been labeled ‘failing’ for a while but only after seeing last year’s test results do I feel like we’ve failed.  No teacher at our school wanted to enter the third round of NCLB sanctions.  Round 2, Schools of Choice, was embarrassing enough. 

There was pressure to improve our school’s test results.  I sensed a change in the tone of my evaluations.  Many new teachers were not hired for year two.  A veteran teacher was removed.  It seemed to me that the pressure was high and morale was low.

Perhaps other teachers felt this pressure more acutely than I.  Last year many of them have transferred elsewhere.  Of 23 classroom teachers 11 are novice (in their first or second year).  In my tenth year teaching I’m the second most experienced teacher at our school.

I’ve wondered how we’ve arrived at this unfortunate point.  Each fall we receive our state’s standardized test scores.  Teachers, energized and committed, face the challenge.  We’ve created systems for tracking student progress, providing extra support, engaging families, growing professionally, and improving instruction.  I believe some of these systems have been of great benefit to students.

While I thought these systems were beneficial our data never really showed it.  Here’s what it shows: (click the picture for a clearer view) 

In 2011 our scores dropped 30% to under 40% of students passing the 4th grade reading MSP.  The year before 71.4% of students passed the 3rd grade reading MSP.  The test didn’t get harder.  The state average pass rate remained flat.  This isn’t isolated to one grade.  Our 3rd grade reading pass rate fell 13.1% from the previous year.  Our 5th grade reading pass rate fell 32.8% from the previous year.

This drop in performance is startling.  So what happened?  Who knows?  I wish I had more answers and fewer questions.

Did the students consistently miss a particular type of reading comprehension question?  That could be addressed with an adjustment to the curriculum.

With a 37% mobility rate could the students who left be the ones who passed in 2010.  Might they have been replaced with students who didn't pass?  How about the families who left because of school choice (a NCLB sanction for schools in step 2 of improvement)?  Did the student population change significantly?  Are we comparing the same students from year to year?

Did students who narrowly passed the MSP in 2010 narrowly miss passing in 2011?  Did a slight drop in performance signify a drastic drop in the percent of students meeting standard?

Did significant numbers of non passing students come from specific classrooms?

Could school community, teacher morale, and the shame & blame policies of NCLB account, at least in part, for a dramatic drop in student performance?

Answers to these questions are important as a school undergoes “corrective action.”  I don’t know if anybody is asking these questions.  I don’t know if answers are available.  But I’d like to know exactly what problem I’m correcting and we all deserve a clearer answer than ‘you didn’t meet adequate yearly progress again.’ 

Rob | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mathematics | September 23, 2011

Testing the Limit


ScantronBy Rob

Great investments have been made to collect and use data.  The role of assessments and use of student data has shifted and it has changed the nature of education.

The standardized test, Washington’s Measurement of Student Progress, is analyzed extensively to meet the requirements of No Child Left Behind.  It is used to identify schools as “failing to meet adequate yearly progress.”  It is used to rank-order schools.  New metrics which control for the impact of poverty use this data to compare effectiveness among districts.  This assessment comes at a great cost- financial, time, lost instruction, grading, and tools for analyzing.  The information gained from it could be found with a smaller sample size and at a lower cost.

The Measurement of Academic Progress (MAP) tracks student growth across a school year.  This test is completed by students on a laptop in a separate classroom.  Our technology and curriculum coach devotes weeks to setting up the computers, scheduling, and proctoring each class.  The list of goals compiled for each student is exhausting and includes standards not covered for months or years or, depending on the curriculum, not taught at all.  I am pleased when the assessment result matchs my analysis of the student but often it doesn’t.

I get very little actionable intelligence from the results of my MSP or MAP scores.  But increasingly I have to answer for the results. 

The emphasis on testing extends far beyond MSP and MAP.  Over the course of the school year my students must complete 32 mandated “common assessments” with the score recorded into a database.  How the scores are used I have no idea.  Increasingly these assessments feel more like an audit of my teaching than a tool for improving student learning.

Students also complete regular math and spelling quizzes.  This is an additional 85 assessments.  While these tests tie closely to the content they contribute to the culture of ‘no child left untested.’  My students are expected to demonstrate their proficiency 117 times throughout a 180 day school year.  They are second graders.  In third grade the assessment load will increase.

This certainly wasn’t my experience in elementary school.  It wasn’t even the experience of my students ten years ago.  And this emphasis on testing isn’t preparing my students for adulthood:  The last assessment I took was four years ago.

One form of assessment has been overlooked by policy makers and more attention should be paid.  It is the teacher’s ongoing examination of student progress and understanding.  Teachers use this information to inform their practice and to adjust lesson pacing.  It gives teachers an indication of what to re-teach or where to extend.  It allows teachers to identify struggling students while there is time to arrange extra support.  It requires acute observation and meaningful interactions with students.  This process is at the heart of teaching; it’s where the magic happens.  It happens every day... except when we're testing.


Rena | Current Affairs, Elementary | August 17, 2011

New Beginning

School starts in one week for me and I am so excited. I have been teaching first grade for 20 years and each year is so very exciting and wonderful, I can hardly sleep at night in the anticipation. There are currently 26 students assigned to our room. It will be interesting to see what "new" accronym will be applied to our teaching. There has been some talk among administration that we should begin PBIS, RTI, and our district will be doing TPEP. Ahhh, why or why do we educators always look so hopefuly to some new inovative idea that will sovle all of our problems?? Have you ever had the luxury of strolling about a book store and paruse the shelves of books written by well meaning people that describe just how, if we would only use this method or intervention each child would learn, all your behavior/discipline problems would melt away and everything would be just fine? Whenever anyone decides what make a good teacher the conversation seems to never end, there is always one more dimension to consider. There are just too many layers, partly due to the fact that we have so many different types of learners that bring to the class a different culture for learing. There couldn't possibly be one solution, yet we continue to search. Some of our teachers went to a training for Read Naturally - well, what say we Teach Naturally. We have a set of clearly defined standards, many districts have taken the time to define what it looks like when a student has met the standard and we teachers are trained on how to teach the concepts and strategies so students can understand and apply the learning - Is it asking too much for policy makers and other legislation to stop complicating the issue of teaching and allow us to do our jobs? Knowing I will have 26, or possibly more, students that look to me for understanding in math, science, literacy, social studies, and social skills, I am aware that I will need to have many and various strategies to engage, challenge and teach them. Once we have met and I get a clear picture of what it is they currently know and can do, I will need to develop lessons that clearly outline the progression of learning that will allow the students to achieve the standards for first grade. They will need opportunity learn, time to practice, authentic, formative, summative assessments with feedback. In otherwords, they will need to know the learning target, and how to achieve the target.It is challenging, but so very worthwhile when they discover they know a new concept or have met a particularly difficult standard. One year I had a student that seemed to have all the pieces together(phonics, phonemic awareness, etc) that would allow him to begin to read, yet it just wasn't happening. After several different strageties and approaches, we found a book that was of a rebus style that he really liked and began to read the book - he was so excited that he took it home to show his family how he could now read. When he returned to school the next day, he read the entire book to me - then with a large smile he looked at me as said,"Isn't it cool how I taught myself how to read?" Yes, that is was very cool! Learning begins with the learner, the key is having the resources and time to know the student and help design a path of learning for that unique individual student, not trying to wrap some acronym that represents a "researched based" program around the student.
Tom | Education Policy, Elementary | December 29, 2009

Cursive, Anyone?


By Tom

Back in the mid-eighties, when I was fresh out of college and looking for a teaching job, I stopped by the Everett School District to apply for a position teaching fifth grade. When I checked in with the receptionist I was handed a piece of notebook paper and a pen and told to write an essay. I forgot what the topic was supposed to be, but I remember specifically being told to write in cursive. Unfortunately, I did not see that coming.

Needless to say, I didn't get that job. But I shook it off and went on to become a third grade teacher. That's the grade in which every American student learns how to write a paragraph, how to multiply and divide, how to subtract with borrowing and (ironically) how to write in cursive.

But that might be changing.

Travis Wittwer | Assessment, Books, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Mathematics, Mentoring, National Board Certification, Parent Involvment, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership, Web/Tech, Weblogs | February 7, 2009

Stories from School now on Twitter!

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Do you want to receive your Stories from School posts through Twitter? Now you can . . . . 

Travis Wittwer | Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Parent Involvment, Social Issues | September 9, 2008

It's Play Time!


What is wrong with schools today? Nothing that a little play could not solve.

Tom | Elementary, Life in the Classroom, Literacy | July 9, 2008

Sam I Am Meets the Teacher


by Tom

I’ve always believed that preparation is the best way to compensate for an inability to improvise. Improvising in the classroom scares me. Which is exactly why I tend to be somewhat extreme in regards to lesson preparation. I still engineer every lesson to the minute, even after twenty-four years on the job.

That includes our 30-minute silent reading time. I carefully teach my students how to select books from different genres at their independent reading level. I make sure they have time to share and tell about their books, I make sure to give them lessons on decoding and comprehension strategies. I do everything I’ve heard I’m supposed to do to make the most of this 30 minute time. And it works pretty well.

Well, almost...