Tests, are they just a school thing?

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As I sit in front of my computer mulling over recent student test data, I am finding myself surprised by some of the data. A few students who always seem to have the answers when we work in the classroom struggled. Some of those that never seem to be paying attention or have their work completed scored better than expected. Are my classroom observations off? Were my formative assessments not checking for the right understanding?

Examining students’ work does show if understanding is happening, but this is different than a test. When students work in my class they can talk to each other. I have taught them how to help each other become better students by asking the right questions: How did you reach your answer? What process did you follow? Where did you find your information? Our class motto is: Working together to achieve higher. Collaboration is a key element in all students success, in life and in school. BUT when it comes to tests students sit alone. NO help, NO collaboration, NO resources just them by themselves. All alone. Many students worry about their grades. Saying “If I don’t get a good grade I will be grounded!” etc.

Is an educational setting the only place where tests exists this way? YES, High Schools, Colleges, MCATs, LSATs, GRE, Medical and Legal Board exams all look this way. But where else. If I am a doctor do I face my patients alone, or can I call other medical experts for advice. When building a house do I work alone or part of a team? Obviously in most jobs tests occur but allow us to use the resources and our colleagues are available to find solutions.

In education we need to find a balance between the current high stakes testing world and the collaborative world that surrounds us. Our students are so much more than a multiple guess test score. Our students are unique makers striving to exist in a world that is not defined yet.

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Dear Elected Officials on Election Day

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Please listen to the teachers, Stop killing tomorrow by focusing on test scores and not students.


Hear are 3 articles I just read today that prompted this video.

  1. Polk Teacher’s Resignation Letter Hits a Nerve
  2. Standardized Testing: The Monster that Ate American Education
  3. Jerry Oleksiak: Standardized tests toxic to culture of learning in schools

Its time to state our beliefs

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It is time for ALL in education to state their beliefs. Education is saturated with interest groups; ranging from teacher unions, administrative associations, to non-profit think tanks, parent groups and for profit companies. ALL of us know we can do better. Most of these organizations have similar belief systems, but we are running parallel paths attempting to arrive at the same location. Our message often gets blurred in the public eyes. When we disagree, rhetoric takes over our focus and progress is stifled. Stakeholders need to start to work together for our students or our PUBLIC education system we know, value and cherish in American will crumble.

A few recent events have greatly impacted my thinking. First I saw the documentary Most Likely To Succeed, A must for ALL who care about education. It tells the story of what education SHOULD be instead of what it has turned into due to the unintended consequences of poor legislative policies.

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

If the trailer peaks your interest find a viewing near you. Next viewing in Michigan is at Fraser HS Oct. 29 6:30 PM where I will be to discuss a plan for the next steps in education. Second I attended the Association Of Middle Level Education Conference in Columbus Ohio. AMLE base all of their work on their core beliefs which are clearly written down in their position paper: This We Believe. The belief statement guide every session at the conference and all that their organization focuses their work. In a conversation with a friend while reflecting that Michigan and the USA lack a clear belief statement, a friend pointed me toward Alfie Kohn’s recent post: To Change What We Do, Consider What We Believe.

What do we collectively believe in education? 

What if all the stakeholder groups could come together and clearly state OUR collective beliefs in education. Our beliefs for students, educations, and community and their roles in education. We might not all agree int he same path to the belief, but I am sure we COULD create a common, collaborative, extensive belief statement. Sure some of my readers are saying this is a mission statement that districts have. Our beliefs have more depth. This collective belief statement would guide our policies. ANY educational policy introduced would have to address a CORE COLLECTIVE belief, not just be on someones agenda.

HOW TO START: Write down our beliefs 

We believe all students can learn. We believe they learn in different ways and at different rates. How do our policies reflect theses beliefs?

We believe that teachers should be highly skilled practitioners, the top of their class. Skilled and passionate about their profession. How do our funding policies make this happen?

We believe that community involvement in our schools will make them successful. In what ways is this encouraged by policy?

What are your beliefs? Please use form to add them so we can make a belief statement for education!

Dancing out our Fridays

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Photo by W. Janda

How does your school celebrate a successful completion of the week? At ours we have started a dancing tradition! Students work hard in classes to reach learning targets, their hard work needs to be celebrated as a community. Grades are individual accomplishments that show learning. Some families celebrate these grades by going out to dinner or reward grades by giving money for the number of A’s on a report card. These celebrations don’t happen at a high frequency, 4 time per year at most.

Our new principal decided we needed more visible celebrations IN SCHOOL. After a hard weeks work we dance out the last 10 minutes of our Fridays.  On Wednesday a survey is posted and shared with students and staff to ask for a song to inspire our dance moves. At 3:00 PM announcements are made to remind students of coming events. Then the music comes on the PA, students and staff get up out of their seats and GROVE to the music. The hallways fill up with smiles and movement. Their is no better way for a student to end the day than dancing with a smile out the door.

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This small celebration has breathed new life and spirit into our building. Office referrals are down and smiles are up! Maybe one of these days we will have live music or be on the Ellen Show, but for now we love moving to the tunes and having fun as a community!

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Photo by D. Sikora

Sign for change

Even a blind squirrel finds a nut, I never thought I would agree with an article written by Capital Confidential. They found a nut. Michigan’s Teacher evaluation system is broken! During the 2013-2014 school year Detroit Public Schools rated 79% of their teachers Highly Effective. There are many great teachers in Detroit Public Schools, but no quality teacher evaluation system of any district would rate 79% of their teachers at the highest level. These results are a symptom of a problem. Teacher evaluations are being used to rank and sort teachers. Administrators, scared of losing teachers who are effective are inflating teachers evaluations.

When Michigan State legislature decided to change teacher evaluation laws to qualify for race to the top in 2011, they rushed to make changes failing to see the full consequences. Districts have implemented poor teacher evaluation programs due to lack of funding and training. Administrators lack the time to observe all of their teachers. It appears that in Detroit Public Schools Administrators have taken the stance that teacher that do their jobs are Highly Effective. Our students deserve better.

It is time for Lansing to revisit the Michigan Council Educator Effectiveness report from 2013. Create a model evaluation plan for the state of Michigan. Without a model evaluation plan situations like DPS will continue to arise. With this plan administrators and teachers will know what to expect. Our students will then have the education experience they deserve.

Teachers aren’t the enemy

From Chris Christie wanting to punch the teachers union in the face to John Kasich‘s desire to get rid of teachers unions the teaching profession is under attack by bullies. It isn’t just the politicians that want to use the teaching profession as a whipping post, non-profits like The 74 and The Mackinac Center regularly take jabs at teachers under the premise of educational reform. Teachers are becoming afraid to share their voice due to the constant attacks. Fewer teachers are now drawn to the profession. Teachers are afraid to share their voice due to abuse. Where will it end?

Teachers are not the enemy to educational reform, we are the solution. Without high quality dedicated teachers, schools would not exist. Think tanks like to spend piles of money to break up teachers unions and belittle the profession. WHY? Wouldn’t their money be better spent in building up the teaching profession? How about opening a model school and see how their policies would make education better? It doesn’t happen because their solutions are short term, focused on saving money on teacher pay not creating a better system. The best educational systems exist where teachers feel valued and have a role in decision making.

The Mackinac Center under the pseudonym Capitol Confidential likes to constantly badger teachers sharing their voice. In a recent post “Teachers Making Over $80,000 need second job to pay bill” the center just wants to focus on pay of teachers. The article is quick to point out that teachers work 184.5 days and 7 hours per day. Lets start with the hours: NO teacher works bell to bell it is impossible to do so, most effective teachers work 3 to 4 hours beyond the bells. Next, no teacher only works the district calendar. Just stop by a school in the weeks before or after the school year and see who is there, most teachers. Sure, eighty thousand should like a good amount of money but few teachers make this salary. The state average is $57,000 and that number has been going down. Starting teachers make less, Average starting teachers salary statewide is $35,000. Remember these teachers have students loans to pay off, taxes, pensions, health care, homes and families to pay for. Yes, teachers are struggling just like many in our country.

If the Mackinac Center were a student in our schools they would be written up for bulling behavior under state bullying laws. It has been repeated and constant. Educators share their story, Mackinac Center attacks, in the name of school reform. Stop the bullying. Focus on being a positive voice not an attacking one. Focus on helping teachers not beating use up.

We are not the enemy you are looking for. Your public bullying behavior makes our job harder. If a public group like Mackinac Center can bully, why can’t our students?

Teachers aren’t the enemy, they are doing the best we can in the world we live in. Schools are a reflection of our society. Education reform should be about making our society better, so our schools reflect it.

7 Educational What ifs ….

 Educators need to start thinking outside the box; focusing on WHAT IF questions. Here are some society needs to tackle.

  1. What if we funded education like we do sports? We spend billions on sports annually, do they add as much value to the world as our educational system?
  2. What if we stopped bashing teachers and supported them? Teachers have been slammed everywhere they go lately. Just think if teachers felt valued and were treated like professionals.
  3. What if all businesses had vested interests in their community schools? Businesses seem so disconnected with today’s school system, shouldn’t they be more involved.
  4. What if there was more collaboration in education? Currently most educational models have schools competing for students, shouldn’t they be collaborating for students’ learning instead?
  5. What if education was about sharing ideas instead of making capitalist profits? Many business models are set up to profiteer off of our public schools, should it be more about the common good!
  6. What if teacher voice was valued more than special interest think tanks and politicians? Teachers are the experts, shouldn’t they be listened to more than all the so-called educational reformers with no classroom experience.
  7. What if university schools of education worked with in school districts? Many schools of education are so disconnected with real schools. Need to make teaching schools, just like teaching hospitals for doctors.

I am sure their are many more What if questions we need to be asking, be sure to add yours to the comments.