Posts Tagged ‘Standardized Tests’

What’s More Important for Education – Smart Boards or Breakfast?

July 5, 2012

Just like in life, there are luxuries and necessities. Educators want to make us believe that digital gadgets like smart boards are a vital tool in the modern-day classroom. That is simply not true. Whilst I love my smart board and I was disappointed when it was out-of-order earlier this year, I can teach perfectly well without it.

One of the biggest necessities in education is the need for our students to arrive at school well fed and fully nourished. If that is not the case, it is our duty to do all that we can to provide healthy food for them.

But schools are underfunded? Where will the money come from?

I believe that even if we have to go without smart boards and other useful but non-essential equipment, it is worth it in order to ensure that our students are not going hungry:

Two children in every school class are going hungry because their parents fail to provide proper meals, according to new research.

An estimated one million children in the UK now live in homes without enough to eat, according to the study by the parenting website Netmums and the child welfare charity Kids Company.

The charity has reported a rise of 233 per cent in the last 12 months in children using its services for their only meal of the day. Those children have an average age of just 10.

Camila Batmanghelidjh, the founder of Kids Company, said: “We are seeing a lot more children struggling to get hold of food. We have kids who were so starving they stole frozen meat from a flat they visited and they ate it raw. We’re seeing effectively responsible parents who are just not managing to have food in the house.

This is another consequence of those blasted standardized tests. Schools wouldn’t dare invest in anything that didn’t have an immediate impact on student learning – including breakfast.

This is not good enough. We represent more than just a place of learning. We must also focus our attention on student welfare and ensure that every child that enters a classroom will be looked after properly, no matter what.

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First Work Out What a Quality Teacher is, Then Evaluate

November 16, 2011

Tim Day of the New Teacher Project is spot on.  How can you evaluate teachers when you haven’t properly defined what a good teacher is?

“Everyone around teachers has failed them – the colleges, the administrators and the foundations,” said Tim Day of the New Teacher Project, offering what was likely the second-most provocative comment of my recent conference.

The group believes that teacher quality is key to student success, but districts treat all teachers the same – as interchangeable parts, rather than as professionals.

The problem is that it is difficult for principals to know exactly what happens when classroom doors close, and all the panelists seem to believe that what’s considered the easiest way to measure student growth – test scores – should be only one part of an evaluation.

In my view teachers should be evaluated, but one needs to know what they are looking for in a teacher so they can properly evaluate against it. Similarly, since teachers aren’t the only element in a functioning education system, other areas need to be evaluated.  Principals, administrators, schools (ie, school culture) and even those politicians entrusted with funding the schools should undergo evaluations too.

Leaving the teacher alone in the dark is not going to achieve anything.  Education is a team effort and currently the team is letting the teachers down.

The Teacher Blame Game Isn’t Fair

October 28, 2011

It seems to be more fashionable than ever to knock teachers.  Teachers are being dubbed as lazy and inept.

In truth it is easy to criticise teachers but very hard to be one.

We need more articles like this one by Patricia McGuire to defend teachers and set the record straight.

Yes, teachers should certainly be held accountable for excellence in teaching and for measurable results in the progress their students make each day. Teachers are on the front line of student learning assessment, since they really do know better than anyone else what makes a child successful or lackadaisical, engaged or detached in class. Standardized tests rarely measure the real progress that teachers make with some of the most challenging pupils whose learning styles are far off the normed curves.

The current fashion in education reform treats teachers as lazy slugs who care little about whether their students are learning anything. The assumption behind using standardized testing for teacher evaluation is that the only way to make teachers care about learning is to embarrass them publicly when their students do not perform according to someone else’s idea of norms. This assumption is what is truly preposterous!

For teachers who choose to devote their life’s work to some of the most difficult classrooms in America, such as here in the District of Columbia, the testing imperative becomes a monumental disincentive to stay in the classroom for any length of time, since the opportunities for sustained superior results on standardized tests are rare, while the risks of frequent subpar results are very high. It’s no secret that the widely-hailed Teach for America program has ingrained two-year turnover in its teaching corps. TFA teachers rarely stay to wrestle through the down years, which are frequent among students in marginalized communities.

Governments are so busy trying to find a negatively geared incentive for teachers and a scale that compares their effectiveness that they have lost sight of the most important pieces of the Education reform puzzle:

1.  Revolutionise teacher training programs to focus on the practical instead of the theoretical.

2. Have measures in place that allow all teachers (especially new teachers) the support they need.

3.  Spend more time critiquing schools with questionable cultures of bullying and harrasment.  Give these school’s the support they need to better handle their affairs.

What a Year For Teachers!

October 24, 2011

Today, my blog Topical Teaching, celebrates its very first birthday.

In the past 12 months I have witnessed probably the most difficult period for teachers in recent memory.  From layoffs, to debates over tenure vs skilled teachers, it has been a period of great uncertainty.  Teachers are facing great negativity by those that are looking for an easy target to blame.

Whilst there are a premium of poor teachers out there, there are also brilliant teachers in great supply.  Teachers are not to blame for the state of our education system.  There are other stakeholders that must lift their game as well.

In the past year the Facebook phenomenon has uncovered a potential danger for teachers.  It is clear that teachers on Facebook must be extra careful to avoid controversy, as some have made very poor judgement calls that have cost them dearly in the end.

Teachers are also faced with an ever-growing bullying problem.  From the classroom to cyberbullying, teachers have the important task of limiting incidences of bullying as best they can.

The rigours of standardised testing has also been a hot topic throughout the year.  From cheating scandals to stressed out teachers the blasted tests are here to stay and the question is, are our students better for it?

Thank you to those of you who clicked on and contributed to my blog.  I have really enjoyed sharing ideas and interacting with you.  A special thank you to regular contributors, Margaret, Carl and Anthony for their loyalty and insight.

I hope, as I continue writing this blog, teachers get the break they so richly deserve.  Teaching is a profession that attracts people who want to make a difference.  We aren’t in it for the money or prestige, just the opportunity to help the students of today become the role models of tomorrow.

Thank you for a wonderful year!

Blaming the Teacher Whilst Letting the Administrators Off the Hook

September 18, 2011

I’ve been writing about this for a while.  Education is supposed to be a team effort.  All parts of the system are supposed to work with each other and for each other.  Yet, it always seems to be that the teachers get singled out for blame.  Poor testing results – blame the teachers, a bullying problem – blame the teachers, lack of classroom control – yep, let’s blame the teachers for that too.

The question has to be asked: At what point do we focus our attention on the administrators when handing out the blame?  It seems to me that whilst there is always going to be poor teachers in the system, nowhere near enough focus is directed to policy makers as well as those in management positions and on school counsels.

That’s why it is refreshing to have documentaries like “Waiting for Superman” and articles like the one written by Saul Rubinstein, Charles Heckscher and Paul Adler in the L.A. Times:

Most of the current efforts to improve public education begin with the flawed assumption that the basic problem is teacher performance. This “blame the teacher” attitude has led to an emphasis on standardized tests, narrow teacher evaluation criteria, merit pay, erosion of tenure, privatization, vouchers and charter schools. The primary goal of these measures has been greater teacher accountability — as if the weaknesses of public education were due to an invasion of our classrooms by uncaring and incompetent teachers. That is the premise of the documentary, “Waiting for Superman,” and of the attacks on teachers and their unions by politicians across the country.

Much of the current wave of school reform is informed by the same management myths that almost destroyed U.S. manufacturing. Instead of seeing teachers as key contributors to system improvement efforts, reformers are focused on making teachers more replaceable. Instead of involving teachers and their unions in collaborative reform, they are being pushed aside as impediments to top-down decision-making. Instead of bringing teachers together to help each other become more effective professionals, district administrators are resorting to simplistic quantified individual performance measures. In reality, schools are collaborative, not individual, enterprises, so teaching quality and school performance depend above all on whether the institutional systems support teachers’ efforts.

Whilst I am not a fan of unions, it upsets me that teachers are often singled out when there are other integral stakeholders who should be sharing the blame for poor results.

Captain Phonics to the Rescue!

July 7, 2011

It’s like the pest that wont go away.  Phonics sneaks up on us all the time, with it’s many proponents insisting it is the missing key in getting literacy levels up to standard.  I doubt that is the case.  In fact, while I think phonics has a minor secondary role to play, if you make phonics the key method for teaching reading, you will almost certainly turn your students off literature.

It seems some British MP’s agree with me:

MPs have criticised government plans to test pupils on their reading ability at the age of six, warning that it will put children off reading for pleasure.

The report criticises the government’s focus on phonics – in which children learn individual sounds and then blend them to read words – as a “mechanical” approach and warns that it will contribute to a decline in literacy.

Fabian Hamilton, who chairs the MPs’ group, said: “If there is a central theme to this, that is, reading must be a pleasure. Of course children need the tools to understand what sounds the symbols make, and what those sounds mean. Phonics is only one way of doing it, there are others.”

The MPs’ report says: “The phonics test is likely to demotivate children rather than ensure that they become eager and fluent readers.”The government is facing a backlash over phonics. Critics, including the United Kingdom Literacy Association, have written to education secretary Michael Gove lobbying him to abandon the test.

The schools minister, Nick Gibb, said: “High-quality evidence from across the world – from Scotland and Australia to the National Reading Panel in the US – shows that the systematic teaching of synthetic phonics is the best way to teach basic reading skills, and especially those aged five to seven.

“It is vital that we focus on the reading skills of children early on in their lives, and give those who are struggling the extra help they need to enable them to go on to enjoy a lifetime’s love of reading rather than a lifelong struggle.”

Surely the greatest contribution a teacher of reading can make is helping to nurture an appreciation and fondness of reading.  Phonics is for most students a giant slog.  Even the expression “systematic teaching of synthetic phonics” is a turnoff.

Phonics has its place, but enjoyment of reading is tantamount.  I want my students to enjoy reading about different people and places, connect with well drawn characters and gain insights. I want them to experinece how reading can trigger emotions, form opinions and nurture their imaginations.

I didn’t become a teacher to turn my students off reading.


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