Sunday, November 10, 2013

Let's Discuss "Patience" and "Humility"

I woke up early this morning and made the mistake of checking to see what is going on in my world.  Imagine my [lack of] surprise when I came across yet another editorial from the Daily Oklahoman telling me that I need to be quiet about what is going on in education and start working to "fix" the system.

For my sanity, I probably ought to stop reading these things.  The other night I spent an hour or so reading some of the comments about the A to F controversy.  That same night, I had a dream that I was trying to teach my children the meaning of "obfuscate" during our Building Academic Vocabulary work.  Sheesh.  On the other hand, if we don't correct the misinformation put out there, who will?

Let's work through their suggestions.

I agree.  It's November.  That's about where I can stop with my agreement.  We didn't start adjusting instruction "weeks ago."  We started it months ago.  Aside from the fact that it is a daily thing as we work with our students, most of us began looking back on what we did last school year long ago.  For most of us, that started in May when we got out of school.  Then we spent the summer working to shore up areas of weakness in our teaching and content knowledge.  Then we hit the end of July and started putting our classrooms together.  Teacher meetings started at the beginning of August so the district could let us know what we would be doing this year.  Then the kids came.  We worked with them for a couple of weeks, assessed them (both informally and formally) and made adjustments to our planned instruction based upon the actual children sitting in our classrooms.  If we had had actual data from the testing from last year to work with, we might have looked at it as a very small piece of what we use to plan. 

However, we didn't have the data to look at.  The scores weren't ready.  The preliminary scores were inaccurate in many cases.  I know of schools where they had grades for kids they had not tested.  I know of schools that had students with multiple grades for the same test.  I know of schools where a student had grades for both the OCCT and the OMAP.  Since they only took one of those, I'd say there was a problem.  They had to re-score writing tests because they were scored incorrectly the first time.  They still had not even set the cut scores (the score that determines who passes and who doesn't) for Science.  Which part of this would you like us to look at?

Even assuming we had data to look at, what does it tell us?  Not much.  First, consider the debacle of testing administration last year.  Kids kicked out of tests, delayed tests, tests that had to be taken multiple times - all of these happened, and all affect the validity of the results.  Second, the data we get back is actually pretty useless as far as planning individual instruction goes.  We have no idea what they were actually asked to do because we are not allowed to read the tests.  We have no idea if the questions were written correctly or if the answers were correct.  I would have to have complete trust in the testing company to rely on that data for much.  I don't have any faith in the testing company.  Most teachers don't.  Even if we did, the data we get back consists of such illuminating information as a score that indicates the child did not pass "Algebraic thinking."  Helpful, huh?  What part of it don't they get?  What are they doing in their work.  Is it a mistake in calculation or a mistake in reasoning?  Sometimes we get a score in subparts of a category, but more often those scores show asterisks (meaning that they didn't ask enough questions to assess that section adequately.)  No.  I have much more useful information to look at when adjusting my instruction - like my personal interaction with the child and classroom assessments.  I can tell you which of my kids struggle with "algebraic thinking."  Moreover, I can tell you why.  I don't need the OCCT to tell me this.

Oddly enough, we really don't care much what the state said the standards were this year.  They ignored the suggestions of teachers and set it for what they thought it should be.  We make adjustments to our instruction based upon other factors - such as what we are required to teach and what our students need to accomplish those things.  I also have to wonder why the state chose a level that caused scores to drop dramatically when the evidence of ACT scores shows a 9 point increase between 2012 and 2013.  See page 7 of the report.  That is almost double the national average growth.

As for early literacy, we've been looking at that for years.  It's not like it's a surprise that kids need to be able to read on grade level.  We didn't need a 3rd Grade Retention Law to tell us that.  Strangely enough, it's pretty obvious to us that children need to be able to read at grade level.  The writer of this article makes the law seem much less harmful than it is, but that's a discussion for another time. 

My response to this is the same thing I tell my kids when they suffer natural consequences to their actions and choices.  "Bummer, dude."  Too bad.  I'm sorry you don't want to see continual griping about the A to F System.  However, if our "leaders" and politicians had actually listened to the constructive input we offered when they wrote it, or when they amended it, or at any point after that, then we would not be in this position.

You are correct, we have all wasted enough time and energy on that.  On the other hand, the people in charge aren't listening to anything else.  I, and many of my colleagues, have written to legislators and the SDE.  We have had meetings with legislators (the SDE doesn't bother to respond to any of us).  We have written e-mails, we have made phone calls.  We have offered suggestions, we have offered to sit on committees.  We have invited legislators to visit our classrooms, to spend time with our kids. 

We have tried to work within the system since our current Superintendent was elected.  No one listens.  Literally.  At the public comment session for the reading retention law, the SDE didn't even show up.  They put out a tape recorder and had an SDE lawyer there to turn it on and off.

We are ignored.  We are called names.  We are ridiculed.  We are told we are "whining" and "avoiding accountability."  I have been told that I am too ignorant to understand the issues.  I have been told that "education is too important to leave to the educators."  All of these things happened when I tried to "push through normal channels to refine the system" and "offer constructive input."  What you have now is an outpouring of anger and frustration that has built up for almost three years because we have not been allowed to participate in the system.

The overwhelming response I have heard from parents is that they don't believe these report cards are accurate.  They do not account for too many things that go on at the school.  As long as they do not believe they are accurate, they won't be looking to use them for anything.  They also disagree with the high-stakes testing, which is the basis for the report card.  Why would they look to see how we can make improvements on something they disagree with?

That said, they have all been willing to work with me and the school to do whatever they can to help their kids.  They just disagree with you about what is helpful.

Of course all schools can benefit from community involvement.  Certainly we welcome it.  I welcome (and search out) visits, programs, financial help, class participation, donations of supplies, suggestions for lessons, help during lessons, food and clothing for the kids, or just coming in to talk to them.  Do you know how many kids have no one at home that talks to them?  We need volunteers in our libraries and our cafeterias.  We need mentors who are willing to work with specific kids.  We need experts and professionals in subject areas (particularly science) to come talk to the kids and help them connect to the outside world.  We need artists and musicians and writers and...and...and....  Teachers and school leaders are already prepared to answer the questions, and we have productive options for parents and the community who want to help.  If we don't have a specific suggestion when you talk to us, we'll come up with one.    You are preaching to the choir on that one.

Of course, not a single bit of that would show up on the report cards unless it helped a child become better at testing.  Why do you think we keep saying there needs to be more to the report cards?

Two research universities have said this system is not worth refining.  It is too flawed.  Let's start over.  Let's work together to make something meaningful to schools, to parents and to students.  Quit ignoring teachers, and let us help you figure out what needs to be done.  Listen to the mounds of research that tells you what needs to be done.  We continue to be willing to put in the work.  Are you?

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