Posted in Ramblings

Standardized Testing Nightmares

Test season strikes every year. This is the second year where it’s happening in the spring instead of the fall in Michigan. I should make it clear that I’m not against standardized testing. Last year was a bit much, but the Department of Education took our feedback into account—and probably railed at the cost of grading all those writing pieces–and they said they fixed the worst of the problems. After watching my students struggle through a 3-hour marathon test (some kids spent 5-6 hours on the test) for the FIRST day of testing, I don’t think that’s true. I was exhausted watching them be tested on pretty much everything we learned this year, and there were three extended writing questions. Yeah, they learned all that stuff, and yeah, I tested them over it in my class–over 7 months, not 3-6 hours. Those kids had jelly brains after that experience.

Anyway, spring is M-Step time. M-Step is a catchier term than MEAP, but it’s much the same test. As much as I’m not against standardized testing, I’m not in favor of it either. Besides the usual reasons (we don’t get meaningful results; it’s not an accurate measure of what they know.) Here are my reasons: 1) It sucks up class time, and 2) It takes away all the technology in the building.

The second one peeves me the most. Because the lovely State of Michigan decreed that we must give the tests on a computer, every lab is commandeered. We have 2 computer labs, 3 Chromebook carts, and 3 classrooms equipped with labs. We also have 8 sections of every grade level. Someone did the math, and now nobody can use technology from March through May to accommodate state and district testing. That works well with the district-required multimedia presentation that has to be accomplished in April or May. Not. (Consider that over the 5 weeks of testing, those teachers get kicked out of their classrooms so that other kids can test.)

Lately I’ve been having nightmares about testing. Last night I dreamed that I argued with my principal about his love of standardized test. Another night I dreamed the Chromebooks wouldn’t work. Another night I dreamed that my car wouldn’t start on a testing day. (We were warned not to be absent on a day we had to monitor a test, as the state requires contracts and forms for all monitors.)

The saddest part? My nightmare about not being given useful feedback from the M-Step turned out not to be a nightmare. We literally got a list that said whether a student was proficient, below, or above grade level. Thanks, State of Michigan. After spending a year with a kid, I could have told you that. But I can also tell you how far they’ve come this year and whether they have problems at home. Your test can’t do that.

Okay, so maybe I’m not in favor of standardized testing.

Posted in Ramblings

Soapbox: CCSS and Idiocy

Warning: I’m on a soapbox for this. Almost nobody reads my blog, so I’m probably throwing this into the digital ether, but this is going to make me feel better, so I’m going to have my say.

I’ve been holding off for a while because I’m trying not to be political, but these dumb-ass memes going around about Common Core math are, well, stupid. I see things like this:

Common Core Crap Meme

…And I want to scream. Most of the time I roll my eyes and keep scrolling, but ignorance really pisses me off and these memes are like the flu–their sickness just gets passed from one person to the next. This isn’t Common Core math. CCSS (Common Core State Standards) do NOT include teaching strategies. They’re a set of standards that way what students will be able to do. They list what students should be able to use, determine, apply, extend thinking, understand, explain. Here’s second grade standard: Use addition and subtraction within 100 to solve one- and two-step word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using drawings and equations with a symbol for the unknown number to represent the problem.1″

BEST PRACTICES: Years of studies about teaching and learning have resulted in an evolving set of what’s called “best practices.” This goes beyond the logical “establish positive relationships with students” to provide detailed recommendations and lesson ideas for teaching concepts. There are detailed Developmental Progression charts, lists of evidence to look for that indicate a child has achieved understanding, recommendations for lessons, and suggestions for different ways to implement those lessons. These teaching strategies are what everybody seems to be the most pissed about, but they’re confusing them for CCSS, and they’re confusing themselves (untrained as educators) with people who have 4-7 years of higher education and practical classroom experience. Here’s a link to best practices documents. (Hint: click on the “best practices” link.)

And here’s a paragraph from the 7th grade intro that gives an overview of a topic: “Students extend their understanding of ratios and develop understanding of proportionality to solve single- and multi-step problems. Students use their understanding of ratios and proportionality to solve a wide variety of percent problems, including those involving discounts, interest, taxes, tips, and percent increase or decrease. Students solve problems about scale drawings by relating corresponding lengths between the objects or by using the fact that relationships of lengths within an object are preserved in similar objects. Students graph proportional relationships and understand the unit rate informally as a measure of the steepness of the related line, called the slope. They distinguish proportional relationships from other relationships.”

Note the number of different ways students are taught to approach the problem. The purpose of this is to teach deeper and alternate thinking strategies. Why? Because when one strategy isn’t getting you to the solution, it’s a good idea to have backup strategies. This isn’t just a MATH lesson; it’s a LIFE lesson. The definition of stupid is when you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result. CCSS are trying to combat stupid.

What else is stupid? The fact that just because some adults can’t figure out what the hell is going on with those two solving methods, they think one is invalid. NEWSFLASH: If your kid can understand both methods, they’re smarter than you. That’s right, your worst fears have come true: You’re not smarter than a second grader. Just because you can’t figure out the methodology and its applications doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Chances are, you aren’t the one who figured out how to write programming for Facebook either. Maybe your kid will be able to figure that out using the problem-solving strategies and thinking skills they learned in math class. Be happy that they will have better chances for success in life. Instead of bitching about crap you don’t bother to try to understand, investigate it. Try to figure it out. Or ask a second grader for help.

Another stupid thing: Teachers are left with the responsibility of defending CCSS. This stems from the common misconception that teachers are just glorified parents/babysitters. We’re not. We learned our content area to a depth you didn’t so that we could teach it in a variety of ways to a variety of learners. You need to trust that teachers know what they’re doing. If they don’t, then it’s the principal’s job to remove them. Idiocy becomes apparent very quickly when you put a person in front of a group of kids. (But those stories are for another post.)

And the last bit of stupidity: CCSS were put together by a NON-partisan group of PEOPLE WHO KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING. They looked at state standards around the country, especially those in successful states and districts. They compared those with standards from around the world. The Internet is a wonderful thing, but the same way you can chat with someone on the other side of the world online, those people are now part of the global community–and you’re all competing for the same jobs. To not make our kids smarter than us (or just you–I’m pretty damn smart), is to do them a disservice. So educate yourselves parents, and not by reading or watching political crap.

Here’s a link to the CCSS website. It’s very easy to navigate. Please visit this in lieu of posting idiotic memes. Someone famous once said, “Seek knowledge and you may escape ignorance.” Or not. I might have made that last part up, but it’s a good quote anyway.

This has been my PSA of the summer. <Steps off soapbox and returns to writing romantic suspense.>