Not everyone hates tests

Test-bashing may be fashionable but two new polls show considerable support for testing by teachers, students and the public, writes Jill Barshay in Hechinger’s Education By The Numbers.
Source: NWEA

Graduation exams are backed by 77 percent of teachers and 86 percent of the public, according to Teachers versus the Public. “Accountability is one of the issues where the public and teachers agree,” said author Paul Peterson, a Harvard education professor. (Here’s more on the book.)

Ninety-four percent of students agree that tests are important for understanding what they are learning, according to a survey by Northwest Evaluation Association, a non-profit test designer.

In 2011, 60 percent of teachers said too much time was spent on test prep and test taking. In 2013, only 53 percent of teachers thought too much student time was devoted to testing.

“Formative assessment is shown to have the most positive impact on teaching and learning, yet it’s least understood and not widely practiced,” concludes the report. Only 29 percent of teachers correctly identified a definition of formative assessment. (Checking for understanding in order to modify teaching.) Most could not identify summative or diagnostic assessment either.

Gallup: Most teachers aren’t ‘engaged’

Only 31 percent of teachers are “engaged” in their work,  according to a new Gallup report, State of America’s Schools.

“Engaged” teachers are “involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work . . . know the scope of their jobs and constantly look for new and better ways to achieve outcomes.”

Just over half (56%) are “not engaged” — meaning they may be satisfied with their jobs, but they are not emotionally connected to their workplaces and are unlikely to devote much discretionary effort to their work.

About one in eight (13%) are “actively disengaged” — meaning they are dissatisfied with their workplaces and likely to be spreading negativity to their coworkers.

Looking at the average U.S. worker, 30 percent are engaged, Gallup estimates.

Compared to other workers, teachers are more likely to say they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day at work.

However, “teachers are dead last among the occupational groups Gallup surveyed in terms of their likelihood to say their opinions seem to count at work.” Teachers also ranked last in believing their supervisor creates an “open and trusting environment.”

Fifty-five percent of students say they’re engaged and only 17 percent are “actively disengaged,” Gallup found. However, students become less engaged as they get older. 

In a 2009 Gallup study, “a one-percentage-point increase in a school’s student engagement GrandMean was associated with a six-point increase in reading achievement and an eight-point increase in math achievement scores.”

It’s your education

In reading about Mt. Everest, Ric00chet encounted a quotation from nick Heil’s Dark Summit.

Ultimately, no greater responsibility exists than that which falls on each individual climber – whether he or she is an expedition leader, guide, Sherpa, or paying client. Too much has been written, said, filmed, and photographed for anyone going to Mount Everest not to be fully aware of the risks of climbing to 29,035 feet. Only a fool would put complete faith in someone else to guarantee their safety, or bail them out of trouble if a problem arises, though certainly the mountain continues to attract its share of fools.

Education is like that too, she writes.

I tell my students it is their education and they are responsible – I have learned as much from horrid teachers as good ones – sometimes more because I had to work a lot harder to pull the information out of the stratosphere. If you are an active learner you will learn. If you are waiting for someone to deliver it to you, make it “relevant”, make it fun – you will be left behind.

In an earlier post, Ricochet remembers sage advice: At work, at home or at school, be where you are. Many of her students are present physically, but not mentally.

They talk, sleep, text, do homework for other classes, read novels. I believe that you learn math by doing math. I do math. They are not there. They take a test and bomb it. Somehow it is up to me to come up with something to fix it. They were in class when I taught the material. They were in class when I asked them to do work. They were in class when I reviewed the material for a study guide I created by going over what was taught. (remember doing that?) They were in class when I asked if there were any questions.

“Eighty percent of success is showing up,”  Woody Allen once said. Mind and body.

Board wants to own work by teachers, students

If a high school student writes an app for a class assignment or a teacher develops great lesson plans, who owns the copyright?  In Prince George’s County, Maryland, the school board proposes claiming ownership of all work created for school use by students or teachers — even if it’s done on their own time with their own resources.

There’s a growing online market for teacher lesson plans, Kevin Welner,  director of the University of Colorado’s National Education Policy Center, told the Washington Post.  “I think it’s just the district saying, ‘If there is some brilliant idea that one of our teachers comes up with, we want be in on that. Not only be in on that, but to have it all,’ ” he said.

Claiming the right to students’ work is unlikely to hold up in court.

For Adrienne Paul and her sister, Abigail Schiavello, who wrote a 28-page book more than a decade ago in elementary school for a project that landed them a national television interview with Rosie O’Donnell and a $10,000 check from the American Cancer Society, the policy — had it been in effect — would have meant they would not have been able to sell the rights to Our Mom Has Cancer.

Board Chair Verjeana M. Jacobs said it was not the board’s “intention to declare ownership” of students’ work, just to “get the recognition.” The language should be changed before final approval, she said.

If a teacher develops lessons, software, apps or anything else on her own time, why should the rights belong to the school district?

There can be big money in educational apps. An independent developer made $700,000 in two years from an app aimed at homeschoolers.

 

Students’ choice: Who picks Moby Dick?

Should children pick their own reading? J. Martin Rochester is dubious. He spoke to a young high school principal with new PhD in education about “the difficulty of getting students to summon the patience, stamina, and will to read dense text, particularly book-length writings, in an age of instant gratification, sound-bites, jazzy graphics, and condensed versions of knowledge.”

The principal said, “Today’s students are actually smarter and better than students of yesteryear, since students today get to choose their own readings.”

Really? I immediately wondered whether we should trust the judgment of adolescents, much less pre-adolescents, to decide for themselves what makes educational sense.

Except at a few high school in affluent suburbs, students are studying less, Rochester writes.  “Most fifteen- through seventeen-year-olds study less than one hour a day,” according to surveys.

A 2011 study by UCLA’s Higher Education Research Institute found that only 39 percent of incoming college freshmen “report that they studied 6 or more hours a week on average as high school seniors.” . . .  In the 2010 study Academically Adrift, Richard Arum and Josipa Roska found an overall 50-percent decline in the number of hours a student spends studying from previous decades; less than half of the students surveyed had ever written more than twenty pages for any class, and relatively few had been assigned more than forty pages of reading per week.

How many students will choose to work harder than they must? Diane Ravitch once asked: “What child is going to pick up Moby Dick?”

In an Honors English course at Rochester’s local high school, students were told to pick a “great book” to read for a semester project. One student picked Paris Hilton’s autobiography.

 

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Making classroom rules

Who Makes the Rules in a Classroom? asks Nancy Flanagan on Teacher in a Strange Land. According to the latest dogma,  good teachers get students to collectively write their own classroom rules.

It seems democratic and encourages “buy-in,” teachers believe, even if students are just as likely to break their own rules as ones set by teachers.

When Flanagan tried it in her own music classroom, students came up with a list of “don’ts” — as in don’t empty your spit valve on someone else’s chair — but “it never felt as if we were wrestling with the really important issues: Building a functioning community. Safety. Personal dignity. Kindness. Order. Academic integrity. Democracy.”

She offers ideas about creating classroom rules, such as:

 •You’re shooting for influence, not control. Fact is, teachers never have absolute control over kids, even using techniques like fear, punishment, isolation and intimidation. (In edu-speak, “consequences.”) You want kids to behave appropriately because they understand that there are rewards for everyone in a civil classroom.

•No matter what rules you put on paper, your most important job is role-modeling those practices, not enforcing them. Behave the way you want kids to behave: Ignore minor, brainless bids for attention. Make eye contact with speakers. Don’t be an attention hog–your stories aren’t more important than theirs. Don’t be rude to kids. Apologize publicly when you’re wrong. Remember that you’re the adult in the room. It’s your calm presence that institutes order, not rules.

Don’t restate the obvious or load up on “don’ts,” she advises. But do give clear instructions when needed.  “Stress: order facilitates learning, makes the class a pleasant place to be.”

 •Integrity helps build community. The most important directives in democratic classrooms are around ethical practices: A clear definition of cheating, understood by all students, in the digital age. Why trust and personal best are more important than winning. Why substandard work isn’t ever OK. How true leadership–kids want to be leaders, too– is a function of respect.

“Carrots and sticks” can be counter-productive, Flanagan writes. Students’ good behavior is its own reward: They get to attend a “civil, well-managed” school.

Surveys let students grade teachers

In addition to value-added measures and classroom observations, teachers could be evaluated by their students, reports Ed Week‘s Teaching Now. At a Center for American Progress event, the Tripod student-perception survey was discussed.

Developed by Ronald Ferguson of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University in partnership with Cambridge, the Tripod surveys have been used in 3,000 classrooms across the U.S. as part of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching Project. . . . Teachers are rated on the research-based “7 C’s”—care, control (of the classroom), clarify, challenge, captivate, confer, and consolidate.

Tiffany Francis, a Pittsburgh teacher, said her second-grade students’ views were “enlightening.”  All rated her highly on “care,” but scores were lower for “control,” and on the statement, “to help us remember, my teacher talks about things we already learned.” She plans to make changes in her teaching.

The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers supports the use of student surveys, as well as the use of value-added measures, despite heavy criticism from other union affiliates, said William Hileman, vice president of PFT.  Other union affiliates  “We have to get better about instructing children,” he said.

 

The entitled student

College professors may be enabling “academic entitlement” in their students, according to research by Tracey E. Zinn, a psychology associate professor at James Madison University. Entitled students learn less because they don’t think they need to do the work, notes Inside School Research.

Signs of entitlement include the beliefs that:

• Knowledge is a “right” that should be delivered with little effort or discomfort on the student’s part;

• A high grade should come, not from mastery of material, but in return for non-academic aspects of education, such as the student showing up to class, or the student or her family paying tuition or taxes which go to the teacher’s salary; and

• If a student didn’t perform well on a test, it is a sign that the test was too difficult, not that the student did not understand the material.

Entitled students want instructors to give them the right answer, while students who don’t feel entitled ask for help understanding concepts, Zinn and her colleagues found.

Listening to students (narcissistic fools)

Education Nation is Full of Narcissistic Fools, writes Math Curmudgeon in a brilliant, read-it-all rant.

He didn’t actually watch NBC’s Education Nation, but he read The Innovative Educator’s list of what students want.

For example: “I can’t learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.”

Teachers can connect but it’s a two-way street and you’re not playing. If you can’t learn without the touchy-feely crap then you’ll never learn from Salman Khan, a computer, an online program, a disinterested presenter or any teacher who is even slightly less than your ideal of perfection.  That’s a damn shame.

“Teaching by the book is not teaching. It’s just talking.”

Teaching by the book is accepting that someone smarter than I and with more time and help from his graduate students, has put together a pretty damn good calculus book.  Why would I change it radically?

“Caring about each student is more important than teaching the class.”

 Teaching is a profession and one that I enjoy but I am not your parent, your priest or your counselor. I am the teacher.

This is my job.

“Every young person has a dream. Your job is to help bring us closer to our dreams.”

Curmudgeon disagrees. His job is to teach math. Nor does he aspire to be a “life coach” for students, though he wishes someone would say: “Stop being a navel-gazing narcissist and grow up.”

“Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.”

I love them, too. Now get out your iPads and load up the Kindle version of the textbook and get to work. If you can’t connect to the school’s network, then set up a wi-fi hotspot off your iPhone, go to wolframalpha.com, find the answer to the first part of the question and incorporate it into the Excel spreadsheet to further analyze the problem, dump the results to Powerpoint, send it to your portable printer or convert it to one of the four acceptable electronic formats.  Then, don’t send it to my email account but rather submit it to the class Moodle in the proper forum.  You know how to do that, right? By the end of the week, I’ll want you to be able to explain all this and apply your knowledge to something completely different, so you need to get cracking.

“Our teachers have too many students to enable them to connect with us in they way we need them to.”

Seek out the teachers.  The good ones will be there. Just wait until you get to college and have the privilege of sitting with 400 of your closest friends in a lecture hall listening to a TA with a heavy foreign accent.

“Education leaders, teachers, funders, and policy makers need to start listening to student voice in all areas including teacher evaluations.”

Nope. Until you have some experience, your “opinion” is worthless and people will blow you off.  When you have that experience, you’ll find we already do listen.

“You need to love a student before you can teach a student.”

Awesomely silly.  And false.

Via Darren, who’s also a math teacher rather than a parent, counselor,  life coach, Facebook friend or XBox consultant.