Tag Archives: teaching

Testing to the Limit

“Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”  – Einstein

My fifth graders completed two full days of ELA MCAS testing today. At 3:20, in between helping a student with a migraine so bad he was vomiting and another with a nose bleed, I announced to the class that tomorrow afternoon we have a practice test.

This year, we’ve had 5 district-mandated assessments, not including state testing. That’s at least 10 days, or two weeks of school, or about 60 hours that students have spent pouring over passages and problems. The reasoning, so I’m told, is to have data to assess student progress and help me inform future lessons. I guess all the other district tests and tasks, reading discussions and journal entries, open response essays, running records, reading benchmark assessments, quizzes, math projects, posters, homework, and online tools like First-in-Math and XtraMath don’t tell me enough about progress or planning lessons.

Our practice test tomorrow is to help students get ready for the PARCC field test in April. PARCC tests, which are designed to be Common Core aligned, will be officially administered in 16 states and Washington, D.C. next year, with field testing happening now. According to PARCC staff, 167,000 students have taken the field test.

I understand the need for common, standardized assessments. I don’t understand the need to test two-thirds of Boston Public School students, right after ELA MCAS and interrupting preparation for Math and Science and Technology MCAS in early May. Scores won’t be reported to students or school administrators.

It’s also mind blowing that district and state leaders continue to demand so much standardized testing. How many tests do we need to show what we already know?


Read more: Standardized tests are killing our students’ creativity, desire to learn – The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/ci_22742832/monster-spring#ixzz2xDdIcYn8

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Achievement Gap


We know all the facts, but they’re easy to ignore.

I’m not surprised when I’m analyzing my student data and all of my black boys’ names are at the bottom, usually falling in the red or starting off the bell curve.

But I don’t think I’ll ever get used to all of the ordinary events that show how alive and well the achievement gap carries on in our communities.

For example, students had a choice of writing tasks after reading Island of the Blue Dolphins, and many chose a how-to guide. After I graded them, I sorted them in groups according to how well they’re meeting standards. Above, I chose two to compare. (I did not choose what I considered the best or worse). Both students are English Language Learners receiving the same interventions, both have two working parents at home, both are considered low-income, both have families involved in school activities, and both are “well-behaved” students. Can you guess which book belongs to the Vietnamese student, and which one is black?

Don’t worry; it doesn’t make you racist.

We’ve heard all the statistics. Nationwide, only 55% of black males can read on level in the third grade, compared to 84% of white males. By eleventh grade, it’s down to 25%, compared to 65% of white males. City and state officials report using literacy rates to project jail and prison allocations. In a low-income Boston school, 25% of black fifth grade students were proficient or advanced on ELA MCAS in 2012, compared to 47% of Asian students.

I hope these numbers are shocking, whether it’s the second or fiftieth time you are reminded of them. Black students, and males in particular, are making some progress, but at such slow rates. Teachers face a daunting task, and it should be clear that we can’t do it alone.

Some don’t believe in the achievement gap, or it’s severity. However, it suddenly gets real when they encounter thugs terrorizing their neighborhood.

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Power of Poetry

I started shaping my students into poets, and I love what’s happening in our classroom in just two weeks. Children are so open when they know you care, and are like sponges when it comes to learning something new. I’ve learned a lot about their every day struggles and what’s important to them from just a few poems.

One of my kids, who’s a top achiever, has mice in his crowded apartment, not enough clothes to wear. Another is torn over her dad’s jail stints. One student is battling the mother’s alcoholism. And of course, there’s Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj references throw in.

We’ve worked on wish, sensory and animal poems so far, and discussed Eloise Greenfield, Langston Hughes and Jack Prelutsky. I love their eagerness and feel like it’s a great balance to all the pressure some of them feel with MCAS. Will post more of their thoughts soon.

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March 23, 2013 · 10:41 am