For Educational Policy: Reject Standardized Tests, Embrace Facts Part 2

For many students Standardized Tests don’t measure facts or process.

Standardized tests measure the parents income and education as much as they measure the student’s skills in a particular subject. There is so much debate and literature on this that I’m not even going into it. My purpose here is to show parents, other teachers, and policy makers what MY experience has been, what I did about it, and perhaps influence a few decisions about assessment.

The vast majority of my students had math skills and knowledge far below grade level. Read Part 1 for the statistics. Rather than rehash my earlier arguments let’s look at examples of what I encountered with my 14 to 17 year old, high school, algebra students.

Multiplication of decimals – a 5th grade standard

Suppose you were giving a multiple guess test and you gave the problem:

 34.6
x .03

With the following answer choices:

A)   34.4
B) 10.38
C) 1.038
D)   34.9

What would the student answers tell you about their math skills?

Read moreFor Educational Policy: Reject Standardized Tests, Embrace Facts Part 2

For Educational Policy: Reject Standardized Tests, Embrace Facts Part 1

One more issue to be polarized over – Standardized Tests

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We need to assess, evaluate, judge, test or whatever euphemism makes you comfortable. Many of us just don’t absolutely need what currently is used for standardized tests.

We just got through testing (and graduation) season and a new semester is upon us. There have been the usual complaints about standardized tests. I agree with all of them. Some universities have even stopped considering the SAT and ACT. I agree that standardized tests in the aggregate show us more about financial background and demographics than they do about actual skill levels or individual motivation. More importantly, for the lower grades, standardized tests don’t do a good job of telling us what to teach, or how to teach it.

There’s the rub.

I have encountered many adults (and that includes parents, administrators, and some teachers) who seem to assume that just because a child has reached a certain age or grade level that they are ready for whatever academic rigors that class or grade level demands. It ain’t necessarily so. My experience has been: you can’t just teach a ‘one size fits all’ Algebra (or any other) curriculum due to social promotion [for a more complete discussion of the destructive practice of social promotion read: Unspoken Obstacle]. Don’t assume that we can ‘Just bring them along’, as I’ve often been told to do.

If we are to reach each child, we teachers need to know what to teach each particular child, and how to teach it. The best way to accurately do that is through some sort of assessment. Few who are against standardized testing have put forth a solution to the need for assessment and what kind of assessment will tell us what we need to know. If you think all assessment is suspect and does no good you can stop reading now. My experience has been that some sort of assessment is necessary – just not standardized testing as it is done today. Here’s why I believe that, and what I did to assess my students.

Read moreFor Educational Policy: Reject Standardized Tests, Embrace Facts Part 1

Stupid Criminals and the Tramp Stamp

Stupid Criminals

Many of my students have had trouble dealing with authority figures. I would often try to teach them effective ways of dealing with authority to avoid going to jail. [See: Punked Out To Authority] People go to jail for many reasons. I always acknowledge that there are unfair laws, unfair applications of the law, racism, bad cops and just plain bad days. I do also admit that the world does contain some very bad people who commit very bad crimes and they deserve our enmity and (for the protection of others) jail. Then I make my students aware of something that surprises many of them. There is a large segment of the prison population that aren’t just criminals; like many of my students (and some of my relatives) they are are stupid criminals. These are some of their stories.

Jailbird Brothers

My brothers liked to laugh at me. Whenever we would talk about police, they would drag up the following story. We had just left a Jethro Tull concert at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago.

Read moreStupid Criminals and the Tramp Stamp

Homework Cure: Change the System

The Real Value of Homework

There is a debate about the value of homework. The debate rages in school districts, states, faculty meetings and homes. There are parents who insist on homework and there are parents who feel homework is an unnecessary intrusion in their child’s life. There is no one solution. I recommend flexibility in the classroom and curriculum. What do we do if we are unsure of the value of homework? The following are some (not all) ideas to guide your thinking. If you want to change the system examine your cherished beliefs and promote flexibility in the classroom.

Question cherished beliefs like ‘School should be fun’.

Read moreHomework Cure: Change the System

How School Broke My Heart

Everybody Has a Story

Talk to anyone, and no matter how great their childhood memories are, everyone can come up with some story of heartache caused by something at or about school. It might have been a mean teacher or a school bully . Maybe it was anxiety over some subject, grade or test. Whenever I thought about mean teachers I alway remembered Mrs. Murphy my 3rd grade teacher. She used to poke us in the shoulder and it hurt. But I never felt real heartache until I became a teacher and then school broke my heart.

It wasn’t a bully or a physical threat. It wasn’t done to me personally. It was having to stand by while blind, stupid bureaucracy hurt the kids I loved.

Read moreHow School Broke My Heart

Gunfight at the Furniture Store

Gunfight: Store Owner Fights Back

It was the Monday morning after Easter Sunday. I had the local TV news on to catch the weather report. I was rolling around on the living room floor doing stretches before heading out for my before-school cardio when I heard the news. “In our top story, Store Owner Fights Back. Yesterday, a gunfight erupted when three men attempted to rob a furniture store at gunpoint. The owner pulled his own gun, and foiled the attempted armed robbery, killing the gunman and wounding another.”

Wow! I thought, ‘What kind of fools decide to rob a furniture store? And on Easter Sunday!’ Unfortunately, I found out. The fools were from my school!

Now don’t judge my kids too harshly. Some of them were really great kids who just had to make up credits. I’m still in touch with some of them who are now adults and I consider them my adopted children.

But, some of my kids were fools on their way to the penitentiary or the cemetery. This is one of their stories.

Read moreGunfight at the Furniture Store

Gangstas Have Cars

Gangstas Have Cars. It’s a Warning.

I’ve noticed something unexpected when I promote my writing. My intended audience is kids, parents, teachers, and politicians, pretty much anyone with an interest or a stake in education. What surprises me is that some of them dismiss my book or blog by saying, “Oh we’re just not interested in that gangster stuff. It doesn’t apply to us.” To which I reply, “I think you should be interested in that gangster stuff because gangstas have cars.” Here’s some reasons and then, if you’re still not convinced, a very scary story.

Read moreGangstas Have Cars

Ethics Questions to Stump Billionaires

Using Ethics to Stand Up for Labor?

Recently, Joy Reid was interviewing James Baker on the Rachel Maddow Show and she missed a golden opportunity to use ethics questions to strike a blow for the workers of America. Ms. Reid isn’t the only interviewer who has missed opportunities to champion labor. I’ve seen it again and again in multiple interviews where reporters allow incomplete, vague, or softball answers to go unchallenged.

Reporters need to question the ethics of the notion that anything which is good for (read: profitable for) a businessman is then, by definition, good for America, and the American worker. Maybe if more people had challenged the notion that maximizing profits is always good business and is always good for America, we wouldn’t have a President-Elect who loves the American worker so much he promises to bring jobs back to America while he profits from manufacturing overseas.

Some examples:

What Questions to Ask?

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When Does Empathy Become Enabling?

A Four Year Old in High School?

There was a little girl running up and down the aisles in my summer-school Algebra class. Actually it wasn’t my class. I had taken it over as part of my duties as a utility, summer-school, substitute teacher. That summer, I did everything from security in the halls to attendance phone calls in the office. And when a teacher was absent or running late, I took over their classroom. That’s how I wound up teaching Mr. Smith’s summer-school, 9th grade Algebra class with a little girl running up and down the aisles.

I was the new guy in town so the next time the little girl ran past my desk I introduced myself and asked her her name. She told me her name was Sally and she was four years old. By this time another, somewhat older girl had walked up to my desk and introduced herself. The older girl said her name was Amy and that Sally was her daughter. She said that Mr. Smith allowed her to bring her daughter to school because she, Amy, had no one to look after her daughter. If she couldn’t bring her daughter to school she would have to drop out. I told Amy that if it was okay with Mr. Smith, it was okay with me. Amy returned to her desk and Sally continued to wander around.

The truth is, I wasn’t okay with it.

I didn’t take it out on Amy though. The student’s ID number, which is their birthday and a few other numbers, is on the attendance roster. I looked up Amy’s birthday and found out that she was only 16 years old. That meant that she was impregnated as young as 11 years old and had Sally when she was 12!

Read moreWhen Does Empathy Become Enabling?

The Heartache of the Impossible Child

9.22.14 Screaming Child iStock_000008551025SmallThe reality and heartache of the impossible child.

Most of my kids were really great. They just needed the right opportunity to get their acts together. We adults provided those opportunities and we all got along. But, let’s face reality, I have to admit that I did encounter some kids who seemed impossible to reach. At least, that’s how it seemed.

One day early in the semester in which I began my sojourn at our CDS school a student walked into class and said, “Oh man! I should have stayed in.” So I asked him, “In where?” He replied, “In jail!”

I run a tight, goal oriented class but it’s not that hard, yet he preferred jail to school. Obviously there are some serious issues here that go way beyond the scope of this essay. I include it only to show how stubborn a child can be.

I must issue a mea culpa. The following story is about a child so difficult her classmates wanted her suspended from school. It has a sort of positive resolution but I feel I just got lucky in coming up with it. Thank God for Two Choices Technique.

The Student Progress Meeting

In an effort to improve instruction and our relationships with the kids, after each grading period all of us teachers would meet during and after lunch as a group (we were a small school). Then we would call in each student one at a time and review their progress. Some students were given high praise and told to keep up the good work. Most received a mixed bag of praise and questions about the subjects they were having trouble with. “You’re doing fine in Mr. D’s math class. Why do you think you’re failing Language Arts? How can we help you?” That sort of thing.

And then there were the hard cases, those students who could not or would not get with the program. They were unable or unwilling to help us fit the program to their needs. Each was their own version of the impossible child. No offer of compromise, no promise of reward or threat of punishment would get them to cooperate in their own success. Nadine was the most impossible of the bunch.

Read moreThe Heartache of the Impossible Child

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