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This is a report from the trenches on the effects NCLB has on a typical California middle school.

People worry about teachers teaching to the test. People worry that elective programs will be shortchanged in favor of tested classes (mainly English and Math.) People worry that the educational mission, to give all children a decent 21st century education, will be perverted somehow into a quest to make the required numbers on the annual test marathon.

But what is so bad about accountability? And how can you have accountability without testing, and holding schools to standards as to how many students pass or fail the tests?

The devil, as they say, is in the details, and the details are below the fold.

Welcome to hell, where the devil lives.

This started a couple of years ago, at a professional development meeting. Rather than spend the time learning how to be better teachers, we spent some time looking over the results of our annual test. The results included names of individual students and were broken down by grade level. We spent some time taking a close look at which students fell into which achievement category.

We have several categories, or bands, that the students fall into based on their test scores. The middle band is Basic. There are two bands below that, Below Basic and Far Below Basic. The two bands above Basic are Proficient and Advanced. A nice five level hierarchy: FBB, BB, B, P and A.  

At the time, we were asked to identify students who seemed out of place. Students who scored, say, Below Basic when, as far as we could tell, as their teacher, they should have scored Basic or Proficient. Students who might have had a bad day, or were going through some "stuff" and blowing off school. Students who, with a bit of adult encouragement, could do better, even much better, than they were doing.

All rather innocuous. What could be wrong with giving a little extra encouragement to a student who might be going through some hard times? Even when the hard times happened to be one of the student's teachers who was on his case because the student constantly broke some school rule? Maybe a transfer to a teacher who was a bit more... relaxed... about that particular rule.

Well, test scores went up some, so the powers that be figured it must have been one of their special programs that did the trick, so they, at least, were encouraged to do more of the same.  

The following year we were required to identify students on the borderline between categories, Below Basic students who were a couple of right answers away from a score of Basic. Basic students a couple of right answers away from a score of Proficient.  The administration collected the names of these students, and their teachers were told that these students were on a special "help this student succeed" list. Teachers were advised to give these students extra help, and the student's team (the teachers who had the student for the core academic subjects) had to spend time brainstorming ideas how to help those students move up into the next higher category.

How does this help? Well, to understand that, you need to know that the school is judged based on the number of students in each category. If the number of students in the Proficient and Advanced category goes up, that's a good thing, if the number of students in the Far Below Basic and Below Basic category go down, that's a good thing too.

Now, let's take a look at a hypothetical school with 100 students and a 100 question test. Our hypothetical students each score a different hypothetical score the day they take the test. So for each score, from zero to one hundred, we have a student with that score. There are 20 students in each band, 20 FBB, 20 BB, 20 B, 20 P and 20 A.

Our hypothetical school works hard, trains its teachers, motivates all its students, does the right things at the right times, and every student in the school moves up 2 points--answers two more questions correctly on the test. What do the school statistics look like?

18 FBB, 20 BB, 20 B, 20 P and 22 A. Rather than seeing that every student improved, we see that we gained a couple of advanced students, lost a couple of far below basic students, and for the rest, not much difference. No difference. Still 20 BB, 20 B and 20 P.

All that hypothetical hard work, and almost nothing shows up on the scoreboard. Then the district steps in, and decides that the Advanced students are autodidacts and don't need much help, and the Far Below Basic students are too far from Basic to benefit from any help, and decides to concentrate on the Below Basic students.

And that brings us to this year.

We identified 50 students who tested Below Basic last year and who are within a few questions of scoring in the Basic category. We pulled these students out of their electives or PE classes for a three week Intervention/Test Prep class in either English or Math, depending on where the greatest possibility for getting the student to bump up the school's score lies. The teachers teaching this three week intensive are paid extra. In other words, the district puts significant resources into training a specially selected 50 students in the hopes that they will help move the school up a notch.

Rather than trying to raise the achievement of all our students, we are trying to game the system to make it appear we are making progress by providing special interventions to less than 3% of our student body.

Don't misunderstand: we haven't stopped teaching the other 97%. We teachers are still trying our best to educate these non-borderline students. But our special, funded, targeted intervention is based on moving a select few students ahead.

I can't see this as other than a conscious decision to leave the rest of the students behind.

Originally posted to Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:04 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip jar (16+ / 0-)

    Are you outraged yet?

    "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

    by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:05:20 PM PDT

  •  There is a group of parents in our small (5+ / 0-)

    Northern California town fighting the big fight right now.

    The district turned one school in its 6th year of PI status into a magnet school for two-way-language-immersion; and moved the GATE program to the other school.

    Parents are outraged and we are organizing an opt-out movement. Most parents do not realize they have the right to opt out of standardized testing. Simply notify the school in writing that your child will not be testing.

    •  You are correct (4+ / 0-)

      the parents can opt out. But the school is still under the gun to get 95% of the population of each of it's subgroups tested in order to not fail the NCLB requirements. This puts the administration under a huge amount of pressure to persuade parents to not opt out.

      I guess the people who wrote the law were worried that, if opt out meant the student didn't count in the school's percentage, schools would simply persuade all the parents to opt out, and thus be free of onerous NCLB requirements. "Hey, what can we do, boss? The parents all opted out!"  

      As it is, if 6% of all Asian students, say, or 6% of Special Ed students, opt out, that school is doomed to continuous failure, no matter how well their tested students, and indeed, their untested students do.

      "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

      by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:52:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Opting out hurts your school (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco

      and IMHO does nothing to send a message to the people who need to hear it in Sacramento and Washington DC. The Sacramento rules are onerous, but they were in turn created to comply with NCLB. Your school is a captive player and does not have any autonomy to step outside the testing regime.

      If your school ends up in PI, teachers lose their autonomy, and are forced to teach the curriculum to the letter, even if the kids aren't following, even if the kids need more time or help with something else, even if there's another important item to teach, like science or writing.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:07:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Just wait (4+ / 0-)

    until you get a particularly weak cohort come up from the elementary school. Your school administration will be hounding you saying things like "What went wrong? Our scores last year were so good!" while totally ignoring the fact that you're not really measuring individual students' growth for NCLB, but rather entirely separate groups of students who just happen to be in the same grade taking the same test.

    But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

    by banjolele on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:14:59 PM PDT

    •  Or have a strong cohort come through (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, Ms Citizen, chrome327

      to be followed by years of the merely normal.

      If we had come through after NCLB really started, my year cohort and the one two years ahead of us would have messed my middle school and high school up permanently.

      Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

      by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:22:04 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  THAT is my biggest objection. We are not (6+ / 0-)

      measuring improvements in student performance, at all.  It's not a valid measurement process.  Every teacher who has taught for awhile understands that cohorts are not equal.  

      Right now, we have one of those special cohorts moving through our school.  We have a 7th grade cohort that is unbelievably gifted.  Why?  Who knows.  We certainly haven't done anything, so incredibly different for this group and purposely did not try our very best for others before them.  Yet, we all know that they are about to blow the top off the numbers game. Especially since the class before them is unusually weak.

      We know the District Office is going to be all over us in September asking us, "How did you achieve this remarkable improvement? Tell us so we can make everyone do the same thing across the District."

      Which brings up the next idiocy.  The NCLB test results come out in September (5 months later)!  The students have MOVED on to the next grade or school.  We don't even USE the NCLB tests for helping any specific students in our school.  

      Instead, we use a different set of tests that we administer on-line and get immediate results from.  The tests take about 1 hour, and we do them 3 x per year in reading and math.  They give us immediate information on how a specific student is progressing and we take targeted, individualized action mid-year (as in based on specific learning objectives!) based on THOSE results.  Plus, the students are motivated by those tests since the feedback is immediate.  They like to see how much they have learned and where they still need some help.  

      And we want to go to pay-for-performance based on this circus?

       

      "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him. Mark 12:17

      by bkamr on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:56:59 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Our school has about 20 per grade (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, Cassandra Waites

      Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it means that for example, we'll see stats that say 15% of the class is far below basic, and it looks alarming, but that's only two or three students. So you see these dramatic percentage swings from year to year, but that has more to do with what families have kids in what grade than from a difference in teaching.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:10:48 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  You don't like these ideas for improvement. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco

    How to you plan to improve your students'
    performance?

    •  Get rid of standardized testing (4+ / 0-)

      Schools already use benchmarks for the student report cards. The benchmark test results determine a student's academic progress.

      The STAR tests are for the school's report card.

      •  If you want to improve the performance (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco

        of students, you have not told me how you are going to do it.

        Just getting rid of standardized tests will not improve performance.

        I take it that "benchmarks" are not reproducible and that judging how well your students are learning (compared to others) would be either very difficult or impossible.

        •  Stop teaching the standardized test all day and (7+ / 0-)

          performance will improve.

          In Oakland several under-performing schools are using the curriculum Open Court. The comprehension scores for the students will not go up year after year.

          They do not read books. They read chapters of books in their curriculum, but those 15 pages of Island of the Blue Dolphins cannot get across to the reader why some of the main character's choices are so hard. Research has shown over and over that children who are read aloud to score better on reading comprehension tests. Why don't teachers read novels aloud to their students? No time. Every minute of the day is scripted to teach the test.

          The tests are incredibly complicated. Sometimes I have to think about what they are even asking. Check out the released STAR test questions for California. The standardized tests are destroying education and we have gradually eliminated the subjects that make us educated, thinking adults: Health, music, art, science. Scientific method is rarely taught in elementary school.

          Benchmark testing is an individual way for teachers to assess the progress of individual students.

          This diary doesn't even really mention that with NCLB, if students live in the neighborhood of an underperforming school they can be bussed at district expense to a higher-performing school. How do the high test scores of other students improve an individual student's performance?

          •  As I said benchmarking is not (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Orinoco

            reproducible. Benchmarks are subject to the opinions of the individuals making them.

            There must be some way of evaluating how well you are teaching what needs to be taught.

            Standardized tests are not that difficult. I've taken a college level course in testing.

            If you have difficulty answering the questions on the test, perhaps teachers need instruction about what they are expected to know and teach.

            This diary doesn't even really mention that with NCLB, if students live in the neighborhood of an underperforming school they can be bussed at district expense to a higher-performing school. How do the high test scores of other students improve an individual student's performance?

            One does not learn just from teachers. One learns from everyone one meets. If everyone around you is performing at a higher level, you will perform better too.

            I have always done my best work when I was in a class with the very brightest and most gifted students.

            •  There is a lot to be said (5+ / 0-)

              for the culture of a school affecting individual student performance. If there is a critical mass of students who are engaged in learning, or a critical mass of students who are engaged in goofing off, they will drag many of their peers in their direction.

              However, I suspect that NCLB allowing busing to higher performing schools is based more on the idea that higher performing schools have better teachers than poor performing schools, rather than the idea that high performing school culture supports learning at a higher level.

              "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

              by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:14:54 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

            •  If you have not reviewed the release test (5+ / 0-)

              questions then I don't know what a college level course in testing is supposed to accomplish. These tests are designed to trick the second graders taking them. Some of the questions have multiple possible answers.

              I am  not a teacher. I am a parent. When benchmark tests happened two weeks ago we were not notified. they just happened. When STAR testing happens next month multiple notices will be sent home. We will be told to make sure our kids are well-rested and well-fed. Snacks will be served to the kids in the classroom. Light or no homework will be sent home. When testing is over there will be a big celebration.

              The quiet benchmark testing was for my son's report card.

              The STAR test is for the school's report card.

              Students do not benefit in any way from STAR test results. The data is used by the district to make decisions for the future. California has some of the lowest scores in the country because we have some of the hardest tests. We just keep failing to meet our standards, so we raise them, then do nothing to encourage learning.

              •  hard tests, or poorly designed ones? (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Orinoco

                You wrote "California has some of the lowest scores in the country because we have some of the hardest tests." Is there any independent calibration of those tests that show that they are "hard", in the sense that they test more complex understandings?

              •  A course in testing (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Orinoco

                teaches one how tests are constructed to give acurate and predictable results.

                You study different types of tests designed for various purposes. You learn which ones are use for which purposes and how they differ.

                Are the tests accurate? (Correctly evaluate the person taking the test). One example of a way to validate an achievement test is against the grades the student makes.

                Are the test results reproducible? ? If the test is given more than once will individuals score the same? With what degree of certainty?

                The tests are not designed to trick people...although that is sometimes the result. They reward the ability to reason. They are designed to separate the resulting scores into a normal distribution or Gaussian curve. There must be a number of very difficult questions to separate the best students. These questions are deliberately difficult and are not supposed to be answered by most students.

                In fact, in a well constructed test no test taker is supposed to get all the answers correct. The reason for this is not obvious. If you want to know how well students are doing, getting a perfect score does not tell you how well that top scoring person could have done. A student with a perfect score has not shown the limits of his/her ability. That person could be better than the perfect score indicates.

                The way students are supposed to benefit from the tests is by hold teachers and schools accountable for how well their students have learned.

                If the teachers and the schools are failing to teach what they are supposed to teach, corrective action can be taken. This is how students benefit; they get better teaching.

                California has some of the lowest scores in the country because we have some of the hardest tests.

                You can not compare apples and oranges. Differently constructed tests can not be directly compared with each other.

                I would guess that California has a higher percentage of children whose 1st language is not English than other states. As the test is given in English, this might lead to an apparent lowering of performance by California students. This is just an educated guess.

                There are good tests and bad tests. I know nothing about the test being given in California and how it was constructed or validated. Annecdotal evidence is not proof. There are probably scholarly articles evaluating the test. These articles are  what you should look for to critically evaluate the test your children are taking.

                When my children were in school, I was never informed about test days. As a result of taking many tests, my kids got used to them and got very good at taking them.

                In the fourth grade my son came home and said Mom what number is next in the series
                1 2,4,7,11,? I thought a minute. He said is it 16? My jaw dropped, and I said "yes."

                •  I think one big issue I have with the normed test (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Orinoco, MKSinSA

                  format is that we were always given tests for classes where one was expected to answer all the questions and to have answers to all the questions. The graduation tests and SATs were the first such tests we'd experienced in years, and I'm not sure we had been told how 'you aren't all supposed to finish' worked on the tests we had taken back in early middle school and elementary school.

                  Some kids in the graduation test section I was in had real issues with the fact they didn't have enough time to finish timed sections. We took four such tests in two days - if someone thought they were going to fail to graduate for not quite finishing the first one, what damage was done to the other three scores?

                  We weren't psychologically prepared for that, and I'm not sure many of my classmates understood that was the SAT system as well.

                  Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

                  by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 09:45:53 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  Instructions are supposed to be standardized (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Orinoco, Cassandra Waites

                    If you are an experienced test taker, you know what the instructions are before you go into the test. If you know before you go in, you do not waste time reading the instructions which are always the same.

                    This is one of the "tricks" they teach in the SAT courses.

                    Answer all the easy questions first. Go back and pick up the harder questions later. Leave until the end the ones which take the most time. You won't get any more points for them than you will the easy ones.

                    I believe that if you have a learning disability or a physical impairment, you can get a time waver. It is one of those things one has to know to ask about.

                    •  This is one of the reasons, IMHO (2+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:
                      Orinoco, Ms Citizen

                      there is high socioeconomic correlation on the SAT - practice with the format makes all the difference. It is expensive to take the SAT... and despite what the College Board claims, everyone I know who has had the opportunity to practice and take it multiple times has shown a statistically significant increase in score.

                      It is very hard for some people to skip questions. It is a learned skill.

                      I think the SAT would be a significantly different test without the artificially tight time limit.

                      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                      by elfling on Fri Mar 20, 2009 at 08:28:42 AM PDT

                      [ Parent ]

                •  There are two types of test (11+ / 0-)

                  One type pits students against each other, the other type pits students against the subject matter.

                  If your objective is to rank students into successes and failures, then the type of test you describe, where the questions are designed to lead to scores on a normal distribution curve, is the one you want to use. If you set passing at the 50% mark, half your test takers will pass, half will fail. Your best students will be separated by their ability to answer or not answer difficult or trick questions. Your worst students will be separated by their inability to answer some questions.

                  If you use a multiple choice format for presenting the test, luck will also play a part, as will test taking strategies, which can result in decent scores by "good" test takers even when they know absolutely nothing about the subject matter, and simply answer questions based on how the questions are worded, and internal context clues.

                  On the other hand, if you want to know whether the students have mastered some skill or body of knowledge, you design a test to test whether that skill or knowledge is present in the test taker. With these tests, it is entirely possible for an entire class to pass with 100% success. You do not get to find out which student is "best", that information is irrelevant in this kind of test. You simply find out whether they know the material they were taught.

                  This is what standards based, criterion referenced tests are supposed to be. A good example is the state driving test. Everyone on the road has to know how to safely operate a vehicle and has to know the rules of the road. So the test is designed to determine if the testee has this knowledge. If you pass, you get your license. There is no bonus for passing with flying colors or penalty for barely passing. You either pass, or you don't.

                  Another example, school based, is learning the alphabet. Anyone who knows the alphabet knows it just as well as anyone else who knows the alphabet. There's no ranking into poor, fair, better and best. You know it, or you don't. If you know most of it, you haven't passed, and you keep studying until you can recite it complete and in order.

                  Here is the bind NCLB places the schools in:
                  The students take a norm referenced test, in which they are ranked into below average and above average. Then the schools are "held accountable" for ensuring that all students are above average.

                  The game is rigged. The school can't win.

                  "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

                  by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 10:17:02 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  I have seen enough items on the CA STAR test (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Orinoco, Cassandra Waites, MKSinSA

              where the correct answer is not clear or not correct, and I was in the 99th percentile on my SATs.

              My favorite was one that was trying to be 'relevant' and was a question about what words to use to retrieve articles about a subject in an internet search engine. I was working on/with one at the time, and was spending a lot of time tuning it to give better results. None of the answer options were truly correct. The correct answer was, "It depends on the search engine and the month."

              Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

              by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:33:10 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  these tests are written so fast, under pressure (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Orinoco, Cassandra Waites

                and with often questionable calibration. I mean imagine the number of questions and test forms necessary. No way they are good.

                Whenever there is less bread must be more circuses.

                by DemocracyLover in NYC on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:58:01 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Sometimes no way to report errors. (2+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Orinoco, Ms Citizen

                  The graduation tests and end of course tests I went through were crud. I could have reported so many structural and factual issues, but there was no way and we weren't supposed to talk to the teachers about some of it, at all.

                  It was sick to deal with a multiple-choice English graduation question that had 0 right answers for the normal track kids and 5 right answers for the advanced track kids, be told 'Pick the first answer you think is right' as the official solution to the headache, and know every senior statewide was probably going to be getting that question again for the next decade because there was no one to cry foul to.

                  Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

                  by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:06:30 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

              •  Analogies get done badly. (3+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Orinoco, Ms Citizen, MKSinSA

                Or at least the GA test was horrid for that.

                They apparently had only looked at the primary dictionary definitions of the words involved. If you knew multiple uses of the words, and knew the word roots... multiple answers, almost every question. I'd had a large enough vocabulary long enough I couldn't even ask myself 'When I was a freshman, what would I have thought the answer was?'

                Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

                by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:09:23 PM PDT

                [ Parent ]

                •  Oh gawd. thanks for reminding me. (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Cassandra Waites

                  I used to go through the same kind of mental gymnastics to suss out the correct answers on multiple choice tests. My question was, "What does the school want me to think the answer is?"

                  "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

                  by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:26:00 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

                  •  I flip through the dictionary for fun. (2+ / 0-)
                    Recommended by:
                    Orinoco, MKSinSA

                    A year after I took that test, I spent at least a half hour, if not more, picking out my very own collegiate dictionary in the college bookstore, trying to find whatever one had the most words in it.

                    Never had that issue with PSAT, SAT, or GRE. Graduation test was the only place, ever.

                    You'd think the least they could do is look up the words they'd picked as wrong answers just to make sure Webster's or the American Heritage college-level dictionary didn't have an alternate meaning that could cause issues.

                    Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

                    by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:37:44 PM PDT

                    [ Parent ]

                •  I remember the verb "flag" on a test (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  Orinoco, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

                  The thing is, depending upon context, it can either mean to hold up like a banner, triumphantly streaming behind OR to sag and droop.

                  Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                  by elfling on Fri Mar 20, 2009 at 08:30:27 AM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

            •  it is possible to validate observational rubrics (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Orinoco

              Tests are not the only thing that can be standardized.

    •  The point of the funding and intervention (5+ / 0-)

      is not to improve the students' performance, but to improve the way the school looks on paper. At our school, 40% of students could improve with intensive intervention. Only the 3% who could raise the school's score are getting it.

      My plan for improving my students' scores, as well as their critical thinking skills, reading comprehension, math problem solving ability and general knowledge is to use research based best practices at the classroom level.

      As a teacher, improving my students' scores is what I do for a living. My plan is to improve my teaching each year.

      "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

      by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:41:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We are a growing number of parents who will not (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        elfling, Orinoco, Albatross

        allow our kids to take these tests. If 5% of a school's student body does not take the test that school will not make its AYP (Adequate Yearly Performance). If that school is poor they will go into Program Improvement status. If they do not have a certain percentage of free lunches then they will not go into PI Status.

        Education is a total numbers game. Unqualified people are running multi-million dollar businesses or managing huge Human Resources departments.

        If parents are concerned about their child's performance they can print the released test questions and administer a version of the test themselves. I have been telling parents to take the test and see what they think. Most people are very angry that we are teaching kids in this ridiculous way.

        •  As well they should be. (4+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, Albatross, Ms Citizen, voracious

          Most people are very angry that we are teaching kids in this ridiculous way.

          Several years ago, we attempted to implement lesson study at our school. We had some small success, even though the program was not exactly modeled after the highly successful Japanese version.

          Rather than build on our first two years efforts, we were forced to abandon Lesson Study for Testing Intervention and Testing Data Study (I really don't know what else to call it, but we spend a lot of structured time going over raw data to discover that 7th grade History students went up 4 points while 7th grade Science students went up 10 points. Once we have extracted this valuable information from the raw stats, one of the presenters then shows us a power point with the same information, that they extracted earlier. I guess it's like having homework graded in class.)

          The only remains of Lesson Study, which even the administration admits was working, lies in the odd hour here and there certain teachers manage to squeeze in, and it has no administrative support left, at all.

          "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

          by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:03:11 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  And then we wonder why drop out rates are so high (4+ / 0-)

            when there is nothing for kids to wake up for but more endless drilling. When they get to high school and there is no auto shop, wood shop, vocational education, sports, etc. Why even bother going?

            When students' teeth are rotting out of their 2nd grade mouths and we cancel health so we can add more language arts passages. No critical thinking. Nothing.

            •  We managed to hang on to some. (3+ / 0-)

              We are very proud of our band and our theater program. But our voc ed programs are basically dead and gone, and we can't seem to keep a computer based elective going for more than a year or two.

              At present, we are using our former computer lab for a computer based math remediation class, and the other suite of computers sits gathering dust in the large meeting room.  

              "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

              by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:48:57 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  what's lesson study? (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Orinoco

            Is it something teachers do for one another, like reviewing each others' lesson plans with an eye toward improvement?

            •  Classic Lesson Study (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

              is a method of professional development, where a small group of teachers get together and plan a way to present a single lesson for some concept. Then one of the teachers teaches the lesson while the rest of the group observes. They get together and critique the performance, then another teacher presents the improved version to a different class for another round of observation and critique. The improved lesson plan, observations and recommendations are written up and presented to the entire staff, and made available for use by any of the school's teachers.

              In Japan, where the idea originated and is used as the professional development model for teachers, the lesson may be observed by teachers from other schools, and the best lessons for the year are published nation wide.

              There are many benefits. Beginning teachers have access to a set of proven effective lesson plans developed by people teaching at the same school. All teachers have the opportunity of presenting for peers so they can get constructive feedback on their style and method. All teachers have the opportunity to observe other teachers' styles and methods. Since teacher teams are composed of veteran teachers, mid career teachers and new teachers, there is an opportunity during the planning and critique sessions for teachers to pass down institutional knowledge about the profession.

              My school had gotten to the point where small teams of teachers would develop a common lesson, all the teachers would teach it, and we would gather to independently report what worked and what needed work. We also had a separate program of teachers observing other teachers which we occasionally got to mesh with the lesson study program. But then the district decided that our team time was better spent reviewing test scores than planning and critiquing actual lessons.  

              "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

              by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:54:03 PM PDT

              [ Parent ]

              •  sounds like a huge loss. n/t (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                Orinoco
                •  It was, and is. (3+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:
                  elfling, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

                  The main issue in improving education is getting the time to do it. All improvement processes take time. All processes take time, whether they lead to improvement or not. So, losing something that led to improvement in favor of something that does not is a double step backwards.

                  In theory, using test results to drive instruction is a good idea. It happens in most well run classrooms: the teacher gives the class some kind of assessment, reviews the results, discovers a misunderstanding or gap in the student's knowledge, and does some review, reteaching or remediation. Happens all the time. Sounds great.

                  But the NCLB test results are not available to make these kinds of course corrections. The students tested, by the time we see the results of the tests, have moved on to another grade. The teaching was done a year ago. Whatever reflection on our teaching practice that might be possible from reviewing results that old must be more of a theoretical, abstract, hypothetical reflection rather than one based on experience. And, really, only experiential reflection has any chance of changing practices that need to be changed.

                  "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

                  by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 09:42:36 PM PDT

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Also, you might want to add some of these links (6+ / 0-)

    to your excellent diary:

    pencilsdown.org

    Released STAR Test Questions for all grades/tests

    The 500-Pound Gorilla by Alfie Kohn an article about McGraw-Hill and the corporate scam of standardized testing

    •  Every teacher should know Alfie! n/t (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Orinoco, Ms Citizen, voracious

      -7.62, -7.28 "We told the truth. We obeyed the law. We kept the peace." - Walter Mondale

      by luckylizard on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 04:45:10 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  How would you do on these tests? Try these (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, Orinoco, Cassandra Waites

      2 questions. I just chose a test at random and picked a couple of questions for the following selection.  From the 8th Grade language arts test:

      Piano
      by D. H. Lawrence
      1 Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me:
      2 Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
      3 A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
      4 And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
      5 In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
      6 Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
      7 To the old Sunday evenings at home, winter outside
      8 And hymns in the cozy parlor, the tinkling piano our guide.
      9 So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamor
      10 With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
      11 Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
      12 Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.
      [Public Domain]

      The word "appassionato" in line 10 of "Piano" contains a Latin root that tells you that the
      music is played
      A softly and quietly.

      B loudly and humorously.

      C with a gentle touch.

      D with strong feeling.

      In lines 11 and 12 of "Piano," the words "my
      manhood is cast down in the flood of
      remembrance" mean that the speaker feels

      A proud of what he has accomplished.

      B strongly connected to his father.

      C that his mother relied on him when he was a child.

      D as if he were a child.

      Um, we're talking about 13 or 14 year olds ... today's teenagers ... and I won't even go into diversity concerns.  

      And, we want to make teacher's pay dependent on whether or not students get questions like this correct?

      "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him. Mark 12:17

      by bkamr on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:28:23 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ugh. meaningless questions! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco

        To take a poem and reduce it to A, B, C or D is just ridiculous.

      •  This is pretty sophisticated stuff (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco

        I'd like to see the score profile that comes out of Congress on this...

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Fri Mar 20, 2009 at 09:00:21 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I'd argue that the selection is nearly impossible (0+ / 0-)

          for this age group to understand!  It's about an ADULT's nostalgic yearning for a childhood past -- and the past described is probably wholly alien to a majority of 13 year-olds, today.  

          Even if a 13 year-old knew what words like vista, poised, insidious, parlor, vain, clamor, appassionato, and remembrance meant in the context in which they are being used (a big IF!), I don't think they are psychologically in a place where this would make any sense to them.  Nostalgia is NOT something 12 and 13 years do.  

          Just saying. It's pretty hard to analyze poetry that's outside the realm of your life's experience.

          "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were amazed at Him. Mark 12:17

          by bkamr on Sat Mar 21, 2009 at 08:15:54 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  It happened in our school too (4+ / 0-)

    ...the gaming of the system.  It's the old, "What gets us more bang for our buck...?"  So you concentrate a few students who are close to moving up.....
    in our district there are Unsatisfactory , Partially Proficient, Proficient, Advanced.

    The administration helped the staff decide to move as many PP students to P, and P students to A (moving U students to PP does not do as much for the school's overall scrores)

    I was glad I was retiring.  But I have been back substituting long term in two other schools. Same things. Now when a new student arrives, the principal looks at the potential score of new student in terms of helping or hurting the school.  
    Seriously, I believe this whole mentality hurts kids...and turns teachers into trainers.  
    Instead of turning kids on to learning we are training them to take tests, to value themselves based on some arbitrary judgment of some stranger who will never meet them.  It's wrong......really wrong.

  •  At this point, it's a sucker's game anyway (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

    Because nearly all California schools will be in Program Improvement by 2010 unless the law changes.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:36:01 PM PDT

    •  A mug's game, yes (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

      which makes our administrators mugs, since they've no choice but to play.

      Since it is the "school's report card" it is, in effect, the principal's report card. These poor suckers are under the gun even more than the district suits, since the honchos can always "take action" by reassigning the principal and bringing in new blood. That particular game only ends when no one wants the job. Unfortunately for that scenario, there's a sucker born every minute, so we really have an endless supply.

      "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

      by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 05:54:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  The tests are designed to create failure (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Orinoco, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

    I guarantee you that if even one school, let alone a whole district or a whole state, showed 100% of their students in Basic or above, that the response would not be, "Wow, those teachers are doing a great job" or "Awesome, our students are doing great!" No, it would be, "Hmm, did we make a mistake on the test?" or "Did the teachers cheat?"

    The people who make these tests review the individual items and the number of responses for each answer. If a question were to be answered 100% correctly, the answer would not be, "Terrific, the teachers are teaching this objective and the kids are getting it!" but instead, "Dang, that question is too easy. Better take it off for next year."

    They require that some children do poorly on the test by the metrics they use to make up and evaluate their tests.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:02:00 PM PDT

    •  That's one way to look at it. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

      A more accurate way would be that the tests are designed so the average student gets half the questions right, half the questions wrong. They want the scores to spread as much as possible, with no bunching at either end of the scale.

      So, questions that everyone gets right are thrown out, and questions that almost everyone gets wrong are kept. Unfortunately for the latter, it's sometimes questions that are ambiguous or wrong that few students get correct, so these questions stay on the test, since it appears that they contribute to the validity of the test.

      "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

      by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:14:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  We're both right (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Orinoco, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

        What I am pointing out is that we are sold these tests as some sort of absolute height jump - if the kids can only get over this jump, they are proficient and all are successful. The intimation is that it is possible for every child to clear the hurdle.

        The reality is that if too many kids clear the hurdle, the conclusion is that it is not tall enough, and the hurdle is raised until some fall in a heap.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:27:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Exactly! (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          elfling, Ms Citizen, Cassandra Waites

          The technical term is norm referenced tests. Those tests are designed to be graded on the curve: half score above average, half score below average--by definition. Norm referenced tests are supposed to be gate keeper tests. If you want the best and the brightest, and can only take the top ten, you don't want all 100 test takers to get 100% on the test.

          But if you want to know whether a group of people have mastered some material, say, a driving test, or knowing the alphabet, you give a criterion referenced test. If your first grader can say the alphabet complete and in order, they pass the alphabet criterion reference test. By December of that year you want everyone to pass.

          It is possible for all children to pass criterion referenced tests. That's the absolute height jump. And you're right, the NCLB norm referenced tests were sold as if they were criterion referenced tests. NCLB testing is designed to cause all schools to fail, sooner or later.

          "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

          by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 06:59:23 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  And it's not normed per school. (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Orinoco, Ms Citizen

          It's normed state-wide or nation-wide.

          So it's statistically possible for a push in math curricula in one state to make the proficiency rate in another drop even if the kids in that second state are still doing as well as their predecessors had been.

          Can you see this inaugural, Dr. King? Did you see this?

          by Cassandra Waites on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:00:26 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  Usually normed state wide. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Ms Citizen

            NCLB requires states to set their own standards and to administer their own tests. National standards would be socialism, don'tcha know? ;)

            "You can't get something for nothing...It's time to stop being stupid." Bob Herbert

            by Orinoco on Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 07:59:48 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

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