Lost in standardized tests

Having just completed the Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress (MSTEP) with my 7th grade students, I am finding we are lost in standardized tests. After years of media reports that the American Educational system is in need of life support. Our government in a need to justify funding for education has decided to find an easy measure to “see” the effectiveness of the educational system.  States have been encouraged with “Race to the Top” financial incentives to measure teaching by examining student standardized test scores. This entire process has made our educational system all about “THE TEST” and not about learning or the STUDENTS.

American students are anything but standardized. Coming from a wide variety of ethnic and economic background. Some students arrive in kindergarten reading books others arrive without being able to recognize a letter. In our current system the expectation is that ALL students will be meeting the same standard by the end of the year. Is this system fair for all students? Once a student is behind, without major supports they will be behind for their entire educational career.

From my vantage point our testing culture is KILLING students passion for learning. This year Griffin, my 11 year old son, came home from school for the first time saying “I can’t wait to be done with school!” He loves learning, but this passion is being driven out in school. When I asked why? He responded, “This dang test sucks, too long, with no feedback as to if I am going in the right direction.” I was taken aback.

As I pondered his comment, I realized how right he was. MSTEP was sucking the learning out of students. During “regular” school assessments students are connected to the current content by instruction. Standardized tests are just random questions with no logic of order. Students are allow to ask the teacher questions and get feedback on the direction they are heading on classroom assessments getting clarification on misconceptions. Standardized assessments teachers have to stick to a script and ONLY re-read the directions. Classroom assessments are corrected in a timely manner, often the day of the test so students know their outcomes immediately. Standardized tests like the MSTEP, have delayed results that often are confusing to students so no corrective actions can be taken.

Do standardized test results equal success? I wonder, what is the correlation of SAT, ACT or MEAP score to career success? Didn’t the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, score highly on the SAT? Should states be putting SO much weight on these snapshots?

I wish politicians would listen and trust the educational experts, teachers, and stop this standardized madness.

Numbers

Numbers

NUMBERS 

They are everywhere

Surrounding our life, filling it with strife

Starting at birth

7 lbs 11 oz, 21 inches 10:42 am

Weight, height and time

every wellness visit

and volume consumed

Numbers are there

5 marks the start of school

IQ and lexile tell if your a fool

As we grow the numbers mount

Strive to improve but

Don’t let them define you

Numbers only describe

a moment in time and effort

Our Standardized Journey

standardized-testing-comic3

Week two of MSTEP (Michigan’s standardized test) is now in the books, only two more days of checking if our students are up to standard left. Of course we already know they are anything but “standard”. This process is taking a toll on our students having spent over 6 hours this week staring at questions on a computer monitor. What can we take away from this process?

The Good:

  • The test is aligned to the common core state standards: I feel these standards are moving our students in the right direction with learning.
  • MSTEP moves us away from multiple choice ONLY tests. While monitoring test taking, I have noticed numerous open response questions for students to show their knowledge and work. No longer are they ALWAYS offered a chance at getting credit by guessing the best answer.
  • The test is more literacy focused. I notice on all test reading is a key for success. Whether it is reading the directions, a passage,  a diagram or a chart, students need to show their literacy skills. Even the math portion contained a multitude of literacy based questions.

The Bad:

  • Its long! Try getting anyone to sit for two plus hours to take a test, let alone my seventh graders. After 10 minutes, shifting occurs. Many students have a hard time maintaining focus or put forth their best effort after being worn down by a couple of days of testing. (18 hours total over 3 weeks of time.)
  • Its random. The questions order seems to have no rhyme or reason in math and science bouncing from physics to biology or Geometry to fractions. Most school testing groups all similar questions together so students can build up stamina for the task. MSTEP seems to have missed it, jumping all over their learning experience in a very random order.
  • Online is challenging for our students. This is a relatively new medium for them to be taking a test on. Sure computers are great but students need time to get comfortable to taking a test on them. For many students it is the first time using all the tools and reading online for the extended period of time. Testing online is a novelty for our students right now.

The Ugly:

  • The loss of instructional time. We are losing over 18 hours of time that is meant to be for instruction to taking the MSTEP test. This is a bit excessive, especially since districts like ours also have NWEA MAP testing coming up in the coming weeks. Why do we need both tests?
  • Student Burn out. After a two hour testing session, what student wants to go back into the classroom and start working on the next unit? Do homework? Our students want to get outside and let off steam. Be a child!
  • Early Finishers: Not all students work at the same speed. I have some students done in one hour, others need more than two. How do we deal with this? Students are expected to sit quietly until ALL are done. Any teacher knows this is impossible for a class of 30 plus students. It would be nice to have a place to send students, but that would serve as a false incentive for students to “be done”.
  • The Done Syndrome. Our students are feeling like it is finals week. After all this testing is done, will they want to achieve in the classroom or are they ready for summer break? Our school is not out until June 17. Our staff is working valiantly to make sure we have engaging lessons till then so students won’t check out.

I hope the Lansing is watching and listening to teachers and students feedback about testing. The bad and ugly are out weighing the good right now. We need to make adjustments to make this process work for ALL students.

Thoughts from administering a standardized test ….

Test

Onderwijsgek at nl.wikipedia

Today was day 2 of M-Step testing (Michigan’s NEW standardized test) for my 7th grade students. It was a sad day for me. Our day started off with a two hour block of time set aside for our ELA test. We walked down to the computer lab with hands full of books, drinks and food (all for after the test). Many of my students were still in wake up and/or breakfast mode. As the all important directions were read a few students still getting their morning salutations taking care of and clearing out the cobwebs in their minds.

As the students began the test, you could feel the eagerness and desire for success fill the room. This feeling dissipated quickly as the students attacked the daunting task ahead. Reading and listening to multiple articles while answering multiple choice questions and writing short answer responses, the once poised upright figures perched in front of computers turned into slouched mush like figures fidgeting with headphones and tapping keyboards. The two hours crawled by at a snails pace, as each students lost their grit and gave into “just finishing” the test.

I understand the logic of giving “standardized” tests like the M-step. Our society wants to see the efforts and student growth from schools to tell if our students are learning. Does this methodology work? It feels like educational malpractice. This process goes against all that teachers learn in their training. Assessments that support student growth and achievement don’t operate this way.

  • Assessments need to be timely. – M-Step is not
  • Assessments need fast feedback – We don’t know when M-Step results will be shared yet
  • Assessments should measure students’ growth- M-Step is a norm referenced test that ALL students take and it does not adapt to their knowledge level
  • Assessment should allow for students to chose how to express knowledge – M-step doesn’t even give our students a pencil and paper option.
  • Assessments should be created by teachers based upon what they taught- M-Step was mainly created by a corporation based upon standards that may or may not have been taught . (We have 7 weeks left in school year)
  • Assessments should be short and integrated into the flow of instruction. M-Step is disrupting normal instructional patterns over 3 weeks of the school year for my 7th grade students. (While also tying up all computers labs so technology is limited for instruction.)

Common core standards are good. This type of testing is giving them a bad name and making our students appear to not be learning everything they should. Could we make an assessment system that works?

WHAT IF…

  • States trained teachers universally on the new standards
  • Teachers created questions based upon the standards to create a state question bank
  • Districts could create local tests using question banks to measure what was taught built using local curriculum maps
  • Assessments could be given in small chunks at the time of learning units completions to place them in the flow of learning.
  • Students and staff could have instant feedback to adjust teaching and promote students learning and growth.

This could work. Just requires trust from the state in the districts and teachers!

Consumed by educational climate….

yell-311455_1280

I came to the startling revelation yesterday, I am being consumed by education! It is eating my life away and I have to change to fix it. It must have started nibbling on me a few years back when I took a leadership role in our MEA Local. I felt I had the leadership skills and the knowledge to help guide our unit. The Michigan Legislature decided it was time for education to take larger bites out of teachers. Changing teacher tenure laws, right to work laws and teacher evaluation laws all within a couple of months. At first the larger bites mainly missed me. I weaved carefully through the landscape. Avoiding major bite wounds. The efforts are now showing their toll.

Teachers have always tried their best, giving it their all to make sure that THEIR students learn, are cared for and grow during their time together. Now I was asked to give more. Wanting to be an effective teacher, I always give all I can. Giving all I can at work and fighting the constant political criticism of teaching, funding cuts, and changes takes its toll at home. I have giving all my energies at work and neglected my home. My wonderful wife reminded me yesterday that I do more and am nicer to students and co-workers than my family. She is right. I need to change. I need to let the attacks, the criticisms, the inequalities go. Focus on education has consumed me. Instead of celebrating my wife’s bonus from work, I offered words of resentment. “Teachers don’t get bonuses!” That is no way to treat my wife.

I have let the educational landscape turn me into a cynic who complains about every aspect of society due to the neglect to education. This is cannot be healthy for anyone. I know this is why teachers are leaving the profession. It is devouring us. I LOVE TEACHING, but it has turned me into the worst husband and father as it eats me up. I have lost the ability to focus on the fun and positive in my life. We only live once and I don’t want to be the crotchety old guy sitting in the rocker at the coffee house alone.

I write this as a word of warning. Be a union member, raise awareness but don’t allow it to eat you up and seep into every aspect of your life, like I have. It can consume you if you do! I am now realizing how much I allowed the negativity in teaching seep into my home life. If I can’t get it out I will have to move on to another profession, but I LOVE TEACHING so I hope to figure out it out!

What have schools done to learning?

What have schools done to learning? Learning was fun once, for all of us. When you see a toddler learn something new for the first time, there is so much joy. The youngster will repeat the action over and over with such glee. A smile will come across their face, saying “Look at me, Look at what I can do!” Children yearn to learn. As school starts, the yearning slowly appears to disappear.

kid-335738_1280

What do schools do to learning to make the smiles go away? Where does this joy go? How can schools regain it?  Our education system is hung up on measuring students learning that it seems to forget to ignite students passion for learning.

Education and learning is about passion and engagement. Our current system is about strict learning standards to be measured and compliance. The system doesn’t seem line up with its goals. Standards are good to keep learning focused, but when standards are adopted without ever considering the students in audience? Teaching some standards can be like taking the basketball time (all suited up and ready for a game) to the ballet. Other times feels like taking the church group all dressed in Sunday’s best out to feed the pigs on the farm. The educational process needs to be more flexible to re-engage students in their passions for learning. It is time to end this one size fits all systematic approach. The Common Core State Standards are a vast improvement over where we have been. Students should be given options as to which ones they feel they want to master while exploring all of them.

I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it. - Pablo Picasso
The time schools take to measure learning, the more students seem to lose pleasure in the process. Learning needs to be more about taking risks and failing than getting A’s and B’s. Schools need to be the places where passions are born, not where the go to die. It is time to reinvent schools! Nobody should ever loose their passion for learning!

College and Career Ready…. Really?

Schools are supposed to create students that are college and career ready. What does this mean? How can education make such a blanket statement? It is especially concerning since roughly 70% of the careers our students will be employed have not be created yet! The Center for Education and the Workforce’s website states “35 percent of the job openings will require at least a bachelor’s degree, 30 percent of the job openings will require some college or an associate’s degree and 36 percent of the job openings will not require education beyond high school.” This data shows that there is diversity in education obtainment and careers, yet our schools struggle to allow for this diversity. Students have to master similar skill sets and ALL take the same standardized test. Teachers are all judged on how this diverse group of students performs on these standardized tests. This is all done in the name of being “College and Career, READY!”

The main focus of schools curriculum is to teach content standards. Teachers spend hours creating lesson plans on how to address these standards to mastery. Most of these standards are subject specific like being able to recognize irrational numbers or explain the chemistry involved in photosynthesis. How do these skills connect to ALL careers? especially the ones that just only require a high school diploma? Standardized test like SAT, ACT and the newer Smarter Balanced and PARCC frequently describe themselves as being College and Career readiness assessments. Maybe college and a few careers but surely not many careers. These test solely assess learned standards. Is this what most careers are looking for?

Ben Davies states that most careers are looking for skills in: communication, teamwork, self-motivation, project management, flexibility, interpersonal communications, and organization. The recent changes towards the Common Core State Standards does reflect Ben’s sentiments as the standards are reflecting more work habit skills and less content knowledge. Does this show up on the assessments? Not YET. (This could be the topic of a later post)

Education needs to offer students many pathways to develop skill sets for college and careers, focusing teaching the valuable work habits with less emphasis on content. Students need to have choices based on their interests so that they can find success. Why have math, science, history, and language arts? Lets have students build and create things that use all the knowledge obtained in these 4 classes.

Schools aren’t failing, schools just don’t have the flexible offerings that exist in our society. Society has the high school graduate jobs: retail workers, customer service employees, etc. Schools need to teach how to communicate clearly and work with others. Show up to work on time, work the technology tools and maintain an organized space. Society has community college graduate jobs: Office manages, lab techs, etc. Schools need to offer classes that show how to run an office and manage others, make detailed measurements and write up lab reports. Finally, Society has the bachelors degree jobs: Engineers, sales manages, business professionals. Schools need to have offerings that allow for understanding of how these jobs work too.

Schools need to offer pathways, tell students the career possibilities at the end of the path and then let the students choose!

Working hard to make sure teachers are inspiring the youth of tomorrow.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,576 other followers