Kindergarten Games

Today was Kindergarten registration in my school district, and that means all hands on deck. It is an enormous undertaking student came into answer questions about numbers, colors, iand do a retell on a story they were told. Most every student could point to a door when asked, Some could write their first names.

before the children were tested individually they would wait outside the Room where they were told that they were waiting before going to play a few games.

Upon hearing this , one kindergarten turned to his mother an remarked, “mom, they’ve got games. looks like I am going to need some quarters.”


I Have to Take a Standardized Test

I have to take a standardized test.testing

I do not expect that my students would have much sympathy for me. They take these multiple choice/essay tests all the time.

The standardized test I have to take is in the teaching of reading and writing, and I am studying very hard.

Despite my worry,  I believe that there are advantages to having teachers experience some standardized tests. One of the most important learning experiences I ever had was when I took the Advanced Placement English Literature exam. I could not believe how difficult it was to write for two hours straight, especially after an hour of grueling multiple choice questions.

My respect for my students increased exponentially after I took the AP exam. Their strategies on answering multiple choice questions was intriguing. Their ability to draft essays on demand was amazing.

I hope that what they have taught me helps me through this testing experience!

Day #96 Cheating on Leveled Reading Worked for Me

While I am not a fan of leveled texts, I accept why many believe they are important. I admit that I became a fiction reader using leveled texts, but that path of development was accidental. My growth was the result of reading through the Bobbsey Twins series, through the Hardy Boys series, and finally through my beloved Nancy Drew series. I made my way up the reading ladder of difficulty independently, in fiction, without much assistance.

SRAThere was, however, training in non-fiction through the SRA (Scientific Research Associates) platform in my elementary school. How I hated being placed in those levels of purple, brown, and green reading when there were obviously  better reading levels of aquamarine, silver, and gold. Just who thought these levels were too difficult for me? I was determined to move to those upper levels, and I confess that I cheated to get to the those level quite regularly. Taking the answer key for the story I read as well as the next non-fiction story, I would fill in the test responses without having read the corresponding story. I didn’t stop until I had reached the upper levels of metallic glory.

No one noticed the difference in my scores at those levels. I considered all non-fiction boring, especially the fake reading that was on the SRA cards, so who was I hurting?

Turns out I was right. Holding me back to those lower reading levels was what drove me away from non-fiction and straight into the arms of Louisa May Alcott and her Little Women.

There is a great deal of time (money) and effort in education given over to leveled text programs. These programs are not unlike the one pioneered by the SRA Reading Laboratory. There are advocates who can attest that for many students, this leveled system works. Students who start reading at one level improve in order to move up to the next level.

Except personal experience makes me think differently.

Day #84 End of School Assessment Daze

Education reforms have increased the demands to measure student performance in the classroom. But what assessments are the best to measure progress? There are formative assessments that provide frequent feedback to the teacher to inform instruction and may or may  not be graded. There are summative assessments that are high stakes tests, projects, performances given at the concdazedlusion of a unit, quarter or semester. These two assessments are like bookends of the grade book.

This school year, the interim assessments have been causing the most consternation with members of my faculty. Interim assessments are those tied to measuring student progress on standards such as those in the Common Core State Standards and standardized tests.

But finding generic or discipline specific examples of other interim assessments has proved more difficult. Exactly how many interim assessments are necessary? What kinds of assessments are clearly interim? After many discussions, it is clear that among the members of my school’s faculty, the lines blur on the spectrum of assessment, from formative to interim and from interim to summative.

In doing research to help teachers, I did come across an explanation of the purpose of interim assessments. The explanation described the three reasons to use interim assessments: for instruction, for evaluation, and for prediction. These reasons may help guide the members of our faculty in developing and implementing these assessments next school year. Before the school days come to an end this year, hopefully we can clear up this assessment daze.

Day #82 Vetoing the Chocolate Milk Debate

It’s official.

The chocolate milk debate  as a test writing prompt is dead in Connecticut to all grade levels.choclate-milk

Yes, that old stalwart, “Should there be chocolate milk in schools?” offered to students as a standardized writing prompt was made null and void with one stroke from Governor Malloy’s pen. According to Hartford Courant, (6/12/14) Malloy Veto Keeps Chocolate Milk On School Lunch Menus,

“to the vast relief of school kids, nutritionists, milk producers and lawmakers, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used his veto power Thursday to kill a bill that would have banned chocolate milk sales in Connecticut schools.” 

Apparently, the same nutritional charts, editorials, and endorsements from dairy groups organized in packets and given to students from grades 3-11 to teach how to incorporate evidence in a fake persuasive argument under testing conditions was convincing enough to have real CT residents make a persuasive argument for legislators. As a result, Governor Malloy quaffed down a container of chocolate milk just before vetoing a bill that would have banned the sale of chocolate milk in schools. His official statement (below) on the reason for the veto illustrates a kind of capitulation as he countermanded efforts to prohibit drinks with more than 4 grams of sugar an ounce and no artificial sweeteners:

 “Ideally, students will choose to drink unflavored, nonfat milk. Chocolate milk contains unnecessary calories, sugar, as well as sodium….Research shows, however, that when chocolate milk is removed as an option, total milk consumption goes down and milk waste increases, presumably because students who do not like the taste of unflavored milk throw it away..” (Malloy)

The surrender in this skirmish against the battle of obesity or our governor’s admission of the incredible wastefulness of Connecticut students are not the only casualties of this veto.  The chocolate milk debate was a “one-size-fits-all” writing prompt suitable for grades 3-11 complete with grade appropriate evidence and a plethora of  writing exemplars created by students at each grade level to ensure calibrated grading. This prompt will be hard to replace.

But let us not lose hope. If chocolate milk has been authorized by the Constitution State based on those repeated arguments made by schoolchildren, maybe other prompts could be developed in order to train future residents and provide them with evidence to make persuasive arguments to tackle more serious problems plaguing the state. Every writing prompt could be used as for “crowd-sourcing” solutions, and there could be language for both the elementary school and high school writers.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • There could be a writing prompt  directed towards the disparity in per pupil spending in the state titled, “What My School Needs to Help Me Learn” (elementary)  or “Should We Compete with Money Spent on Education in the Town Next Door?” (high school);
  • There could be a writing prompt incorporating information  to building a job force for graduates titled,  “What Jobs Would I Like When I Grow Up in CT?” (elementary) or “How Can Industries and Jobs Be Sought and Brought to CT?”  (for high school);
  • There could be a writing prompt to address the increase of time spent in standardized testing itself, a minimum of seven to eight hours of instructional time annually at each grade level, titled, “What I Know that a Test Does Not Ask Me” (elementary) or “Should the Only Measure of a CT Education be a Standardized  Test?” (high school)

The debate that led to the veto of a chocolate milk  ban pales in comparison with some of the critical issues in public education that CT legislators should be tackling. Maybe, having students research how to address real CT problems in order to make authentic arguments may contribute to legislation that will prove helpful to the future of the state. The writing prompt to “write to your state senator or congressional legislator” could be delivered for “authentic” learning.

Of course, legislators may find many of those persuasive arguments made by students harder to swallow than chocolate milk..


Day #61 “Just Why” Asks a Student

The Connecticut SBAC pilot tests for the 11th graders in English/Language Arts and math concluded this week in our district. For eight hours, students sat in computer labs taking the field tests, but they will not know their individual results.
So, rather than lose all productivity, I asked students to complete a series of feedback questions in order to help teachers prepare for the exams next year. There were separate surveys created in Google forms for math and for English/Language Arts and math, and 68 students responded to the surveys over the course of the testing.

The results were interesting and will help us prepare students in future years. Some of the questions included:

Were the questions well worded? Did you understand what you were required to do?

78% yes
22% no

Were there any technical issues?Screenshot 2014-05-24 20.07.36

66% No
34% Yes

How was the calculator to use?

70%  easy to use
30%  difficult to use

Students were asked to rate their ability to complete this test with or without scrap paper; 18% of students felt scrap paper was unnecessary while at the other end of the scale 25% of students absolutely need scrap paper.
Finally, each survey  had a comment section where students either complained (“we already have SAT, SAT Prep’s and much more”) or made recommendations (“I would recommend that students in CP prepare more like the ones in AP did, with questions based off of the test, since a lot of them were similar to the ones AP asked.”)

The best comment, however, was a simple two word evaluation made on the last day of testing: “Just why?”

Day #59 Student Use of Evidence re: SBAC Pilot Test

The Smarter Balanced pilot tests ended today, and the computer labs are open to students again. The 11th graders spent 8.5 hours over the past two weeks sitting and “testing” in English/Language Arts and math. While they were cooperative, they were not happy spending so many hours in front of screens. Furthermore, they are disgruntled they will not receive the individual results of their tests; they have no idea how well or how poorly they did.

So that the experience would help prepare teachers for next year, however, the 11th graders did cooperate in a prepared survey that asked them what they thought of the new online tests. One of the responses from an unnamed student was particularly interesting:

“It gives you a head ache and Isn’t it bad for you to stare a computer for long periods of time? “Make sure you stand up and walk away from your computer on a regular basis. Just walk around for a few minutes, stretch, and relax. This should be done at least every hour. For my patients I recommend that they use a timer and get away from their computer every 20 to 30 minutes” 2014-05-22 21.57.16

In reading the response, I immediately realized that this student had sought out and included evidence to make his or her point, that spending hours in front of a computer was not healthy. In this student’s opinion, the tests demand too much onscreen reading. The evidence researched for the response came from a reputable website address-The University of California.

If the SBAC is testing the Common Core State Standards that emphasize evidence in written responses, than this student is demonstrating proficiency…even in the pilot test.