‘I can’t answer test questions on my poems’

Image result for sara holbrook poems "real case" midnight

I Can’t Answer These Texas Standardized Test Questions About My Own Poems, writes Sara Holbrook in the Huffington Post.

Old STAAR questions are released so teachers can prepare students for the exam. Holbrook checked out the questions on A Real Case, which appeared on the 2014 Grade 7 STAAR Reading Test, and Midnight, appearing on the 2013 Grade 8 STAAR Reading Test. Both poems are published in Walking on the Boundaries of Change.

A teacher wrote to ask her how to answer this question on Midnight:

“Dividing the poem into two stanzas allows the poet to?

A) compare the speaker’s schedule with the train’s schedule.

B ) ask questions to keep the reader guessing about what will happen

C) contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays

D) incorporate reminders for the reader about where the action takes place.

The answer is C) to contrast the speaker’s feelings about weekends and Mondays.

The teacher had been given test-prep materials that omitted the stanza break. Holbrook sent him an image of the published poem.

Why had she put the stanza break there? “When I read it aloud (I’m a performance poet), I pause there.”

Holbrook includes all the questions on A Real Case. She concludes, “any test that questions the motivations of the author without asking the author is a big baloney sandwich. Mostly test makers do this to dead people who can’t protest. But I’m not dead.

“I protest.”

Principal: ‘Bah, humbug’ to ‘Christmas Carol’

Fifth-graders didn’t put on A Christmas Carol this year at Centerville Elementary in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Why ditch a decades-long tradition?

Parents told WHTM that someone had complained about Tiny Tim’s big line: “God bless us, every one.”

Image result for christmas carol play tiny timNot true, wrote Principal Tom Kramer on the school’s website. “Producing and performing a play is not part of the written curriculum for fifth grade,” and “preparations had evolved to take 15 to 20 hours of instructional (educational) time to produce this play,” he wrote.

Fifth-grade teachers feared Centerville students might not be as prepared for sixth grade as children at other schools, according to the principal.

“In addition to focusing on high quality instruction,” Kramer concluded “our decision is rooted in the desire to be respectful of the many cultural and religious backgrounds represented by the students attending Centerville Elementary.”

So, they can’t find a way to make performing a classic story an educational experience. “Bah,” as Scrooge might put it. “Humbug.”

A ‘bad year’ for Core-linked SAT

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After helping to write Common Core standards, David Coleman moved to College Board, where he pushed a plan to align the SAT and PSAT college entrance exams to the standards, reports Renee Dudley for Reuters. The new Core-linked SAT, released this spring, is facing “harsh realities.”

Within College Board, there were “pitched battles” over Coleman’s “timeline to create the new test,” writes Dudley, who had access to internal e-mails, memos and presentations.

As Reuters reported in March, the College Board has struggled to stop cheating rings in Asia that exploit security weaknesses in the SAT and enable some students to gain unfair advantages on the exam. A massive security breach earlier this year exposed about 400 questions for upcoming SATs.

And College Board officials went forward with the redesigned test even though they knew it was overloaded with wordy math questions, a problem that handicaps non-native English speakers and reinforces race and income disparities that Coleman has vowed to diminish.

Reviewers warned that linking to Common Core “would disadvantage students in states that rejected the standards or were slow to absorb them,” writes Dudley.

Aligning the SAT with the Common Core standards is not “educationally sound, nor will it be fair to students for at least several years, even if all fifty states enthusiastically adopt them,” wrote Dan Lotesto, a lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

“It was a bad year, and I’m sorry,” Coleman said in September, at a conference of university admissions officers and high school counselors. “It is no good to have vision if you don’t deliver.”

Several states have dropped the Common Core. President-elect Donald Trump has called the standards a “total disaster.”

The Common Core is “unraveling,” education historian Diane Ravitch said in an interview. “If the SAT becomes woefully out of line with what’s happening in schools, then it’s less valuable.”

The ACT has passed the SAT in popularity among collegebound students.

Classroom observation: A big waste of money?

Classroom observations — the centerpiece of most teacher rating systems — are a waste of time and money, writes Mark Dynarski on Brookings’ blog.

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An administrator checks off whether the teacher is demonstrating curriculum knowledge, asking open-ended questions that require students to  “think at a higher level in formulating answers,” he writes. “Do students appear engaged?”

The observer can see whether teachers are teaching., but not whether students are learning, writes Dynarski. “Teacher observation scores and student test scores show little correlation.” There’s also no link with with non-cognitive outcomes such as “grit” or persistence.

Observations take administrators’ time, an estimated 31 million hours a year. That costs “$1.4 billion a year to . . . find that nearly all teachers are effective and to generate teacher feedback that does not improve student learning,” Dynarski concludes.

Academics aren’t just a ‘white thing’

Standardized tests are a “racist weapon,” argues Ibram X. Kendi, a history professor at the University of Florida. “What if the intellect of a poor, low testing Black child in a poor Black school is different—and not inferior—to the intellect of a rich, high-testing White child in a rich White school?” he asks.

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“Gathering knowledge of abstract items, from words to equations, that have no relation to our everyday lives has long been the amusement of the leisured elite,” writes Kendi. He prefers to measure literacy “by how knowledgeable individuals are about their own environment.”

A Mexican-American and a first-generation college graduate, Liz Reetz teaches sixth-grade social studies. Testing shows  how “our schools are not educating all students,” she writes on A Plus Colorado.

She “built a curriculum based on teaching students to think, read, talk, and write about history as it relates to identity and social justice,” she writes. Her non-elite students can handle abstractions, if they have “the opportunity to engage with ideas that are meaningful to them.”

Kendi’s ideas are dangerous, she believes.

“Equally intelligent in different ways” says to me: value survival skills in poor and brown people but leave the thinking about big ideas, governing, or improving the world to wealthy people and white people.

. . . You give the power to white teachers, white administrators, white legislators to say “you can’t hold me accountable for the fact that he can’t read, his intelligence is different” or “It’s not my fault she isn’t grasping algebra, her culture doesn’t value numbers or abstract thinking.”

The “notion that communities of color have fundamentally different kinds of knowledge” is racist and ahistorical, writes Reetz.

Pre-Columbian societies tracked the movements of stars and planets, understood complex mathematics, used chemistry and biology to create rubber, and engineered roads and buildings. Do not tell me that my culture doesn’t value abstract thinking.

Abstract thinking “is the heritage of humanity,” she writes. It’s not a “white thing.”

Who cares about high school achievers?

Only four states — Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — have accountability systems that encourage high schools to focus on high achievers, concludes Fordham’s High Stakes for High Schoolers

Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana and New York are moving in that direction.

Most states measure proficiency in English and math: Schools get no credit for helping students move from proficiency to excellence.

Twenty-two states give or plan to give accountability points for helping high school students earn college credits via AP, dual enrollment, and the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Enrolling students in challenging courses that they’re not prepared to pass does little good, argues Checker Finn. It may harm well-prepared students.

Twelfth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have flatlined; so have SAT and ACT scores, notes Finn. “As for international metrics such as PISA and TIMSS, we’re being sorely outclassed by far too many other countries, both in the fraction of our young people who reach the upper ranks on those metrics and in the representation of lower-SES and minority youngsters (save for Asian Americans) among those who do make it.”

Younger students do better in science

Fourth and eighth graders are doing better on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exam, but two-thirds of students aren’t proficient. Twelfth-grade scores remained the same.

A national sample of students were tested in physical science, life science and earth and space sciences.

2011 question for 8th graders

2011 question for 8th graders

Science instruction has improved for younger students, said John Holdren, President Obama’s science adviser. “We will see it reflected in the years ahead in the 12th-grade scores as well,” he said.

Fourth-grade girls closed the gender gap, while older girls improved more than their male classmates.

Black and Latino students also narrowed the achievement gap in science.

Sample science questions for fourth graderseighth graders and 12th graders start on page 17.

Is opt-out a ‘white power’ movement?

The opt-out movement is the Left’s “white power movement,” writes Derrell Bradford on Eduwonk.

“The typical opt-out activist is a highly educated, white, married, politically liberal parent whose children attend public school and whose household median income is well above the national average,” states a Teachers’ College report.

Image result for opt out testing“Annual testing, disaggregated results and an emphasis on year-over-year test score growth” has “radically changed the discussion around the education of low-income kids of color for the better,” he argues.

But when “white soccer moms decide they don’t like the most important device to help us fix”  inner-city schools, “left-leaning politicians listen,” he writes.  “The president makes a speech about too much testing. The Democrats revise their platform.”

“Opt-outers tend to consider themselves ‘progressives’ so they don’t like to see themselves as the privileged few who put their kids’ comfort ahead of the needs of other school children,” writes Tracy Dell’Angela on Citizen Ed. “But it turns out that’s exactly who they are.”

The Teachers’ College survey shows the opt-out movement is dominated by teachers’ concerns about tying test results to teacher evaluation, she writes. Almost a fifth of opt-out activists don’t have school-age children and some who do send them to private school.

Opt-outers don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

We now have the data that reveals opt-out for what it really is: a luxury, afforded to white, affluent taxpayers and parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success.

Esther Cepeda, a Washington Post columnist, has returned to teaching in a Chicago suburb. (I think she may be teaching at my old high school, which is now 20 percent Hispanic.)

She defends testing as imperfect, but essential. “On the whole, the tests are, like pulse and blood pressure, vital signs of how students progress academically.”

Here’s the Ed Next forum on the opt-out movement.

EdNext poll: Core support slides

“The demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated,” concludes Education Next in reporting on its survey of 10-year trends in education opinion.

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the survey found. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

In 2016, 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 83% in 2013. Republican backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The slip among Democrats is from 86% to 60% over this time period. Eighty-seven percent of teachers supported the initiative in 2013, but that fell to 54% in 2014 and to 44% in 2015, stabilizing at that level in 2016.

When “Common Core” is not mentioned, two-thirds back the use of the same standards.

Nearly four out of five respondents, about the same as in 2015, favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school. However, only half of teachers support the testing requirement.

A “federal policy that prevents schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students” is very unpopular, backed by only 28 percent of the general public and of teachers.  In 2016, 48 percent of black respondents express support for the idea, down from 65 percent in 2015. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics express support, showing little change from last year.

Respondents rated local schools more favorably than in the past, but continued to give low marks to schools nationally.

Test our kids, say art, music teachers 

Worried that only what’s tested is valued, art and music teachers are trying to develop common assessments of their students’ skills, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz. It’s not easy.

In New Hampshire, the experimental exam asked high school students “to research an artist, create a piece of art inspired by the artist’s work and then write a reflection about the experience,” writes Butrymowicz.

Teachers met over the summer to see whether they could agree on grading and tweak the assessments.

Elementary school art teachers Sarah Boudreau and Justina Austin “laid out about two dozen self-portraits drawn by their fourth-grade students,” reportsButrymowicz. “They needed to agree on a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each piece, based on predetermined grading criteria, such as drawing skills and oil pastel blending technique.”

Meanwhile, music teachers tried to assign scores to “improvised student performances on the recorder” based on “pitch, tone and rhythm.”

In its arts tests, Florida has incorporated multiple-choice and short-answer questions that are easy to score efficiently. New Hampshire and Michigan are trying something more ambitious: devising tasks that require a student to submit a finished piece of artwork or perform a piece of music. These tests are time-intensive to administer and grade, however, and the results are difficult to translate into a single numeric score.

“When the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, included an arts test in 1997, it required students to produce real works of art in addition to answering standard multiple-choice questions,” writes Butrymowicz.  NAEP ended up with “semitractor-trailers full of student-created clay bunnies.”

Arts tests in 2008 and 2016 relied on digitized photos and videos.

Even the best scoring systems won’t capture everything, said Timothy Brophy, director of institutional assessment and professor of music education at the University of Florida.“We’re all pretty glad that Monet and Da Vinci didn’t go to a school that said, ‘You need to [paint] in this way to meet a rubric,’ ” he said.