Looking ahead to the new year often involves taking stock of where we’re at and how we might improve – as people, and as teachers. Drawing my inspiration from the National Board’s Five Core Propositions, I offer the following suggestions for resolutions that I think would apply broadly to my teaching peers. Rest assured, these are all areas I’m working on myself, too!
Resolution 1: Make a renewed effort to connect with students personally. Think of the students you know the least well, and make a point of engaging with them early in the new year. See what you can learn about your students that will help them engage with you and your curriculum.
Resolution 2: Challenge yourself to learn something new about your subject or teaching every week. That might mean reading an extra article now and then from the professional literature available online, or making more time to read journals and books that are languishing in the “get-around-to-this-eventually” corner of your desk, classroom or office. Engage with your peers in school or online to find out what learning they’re engaged in.
Resolution 3: Note that this core proposition doesn’t mention grading. Try to separate feedback from grading a bit more this year. Explore ways to grade less and respond more. Consider a move away from points and averages and towards other grading methods, anything that gets you and your students more focused on learning and less on grading.
Resolution 4: Think about your daily, weekly, or monthly routines: where are the regular opportunities for analysis and reflection that should accompany your work? If you have these opportunities regularly in your work, see what you can do to enrich the experience, to make it more effective. If you don’t have these opportunities regularly at work, consider the potential of an online personal learning network. You should also speak up within your department, grade level, school, district, and teachers association, to advocate for improved collaboration and shared learning.
Resolution 5: Add one new way that you work with your learning community this year. Hopefully your peers are already part of that learning community (and if not, start there, borrowing a bit from Resolution 4). This year, find one new way to connect: take on a new role in your teachers association; engage with parents in a sustained type of outreach or collaboration; invite community members to participate more in the classroom and in the life of the school; reach out to school board members and other policy makers to advocate for your school community and on your students’ behalf; engage more deeply with your professional organizations by joining committees, writing or presenting.
Make 2014 the best year of your teaching career – and I’ll try to do the same!
[EDIT 1/2/14] – Many thanks to all who have read and shared this post. It has been more widely shared than anything I’ve ever written. If this is your first time reading a post at InterACT, I invite you to explore the categories in the drop down menu on the right side of this page. Happy New Year!
Schools in the city of Sanger, California, struggle with many of the educational challenges you’d anticipate in a rural, farming community, populated largely by migrant workers with low incomes and little English. Yet in the past decade, Sanger schools have beaten the odds, improving educational outcomes for their students in many significant ways.
You can find the details in this AP story by Gosia Wozniacka, at the San Diego Union-Tribune web site: Farm town develops education success formula. The story echoes much of what David Kirp said about improving schools in his book Improbable Scholars, (reviewed here). While his book focuses on Union City, New Jersey, he does refer to Sanger as an example of similar conditions producing similar improvements.
The most important take-away from these stories is that school improvement does not require dramatic overhauls in curriculum or governance. Rather, it’s mainly a matter of stability and trust, the key conditions that allow people to build a shared understanding of the challenges they face and how to best serve their students, developing home-grown solutions that everyone commits to supporting.
Here’s a sample of the article, which I hope you’ll read in its entirety:
Faced with failure, most districts respond with quick fixes geared for immediate results but few long-term gains, said Jane David of the Bay Area Research Group, co-author of a study about the district. Instead of spending on costly programs or teaching aids, Sanger set out to change its culture.
The district made “an investment in time versus money,” said Matt Navo, Sanger’s superintendent. “It allowed us to use personnel who already existed,” train teachers and provide additional help to students by changing schedules and trying new approaches.
Key to change was a model requiring collaboration among teachers, data to track students and holding teachers accountable to each other.
To better understand why students like Sanchez struggled, the district created its own standardized tests. Teacher teams regularly analyzed scores to determine what succeeded and what failed. They set goals, exchanged strategies and tried out new teaching methods. They even retaught each other’s students.
Some teachers initially resisted, but administrators emphasized the approach was not punitive.
“There wasn’t that fear of failure, so we could be creative and innovative,” said Cathy Padilla, principal at Jefferson Elementary School.
Sunday nights at 8:00 PM (PT), California EdChat (#caedchat) is my favorite place to be online. Educators from all over our state, along with a few dropping in from elsewhere, take up all sorts of topics relating to teaching. I think in the past several months I’ve probably participated about half the time, but missed the chat last night. Too bad, because it was a topic that seemed quite appropriate for our network, Accomplished California Teachers. The discussion for the evening focused on what separates a good teacher from a great teacher. I would find it challenging to simply label myself or others “good” or “great” – but I do think one of the greatest traits teachers can have is the ability to be honest with themselves about ways in which they are both “great” and… less than that.
On those occasions when I miss the live interaction of #caedchat, I always go back to review what I missed and look for new and interesting people to follow on Twitter. Since this topic was so interesting and important, I decided to pick out ten excellent tweets to share. I encourage you to add your own thoughts about what makes a great teacher, or perhaps responses to specific tweets below. (If you see a tweet that starts off A1, A2, A3, etc., that means it’s an answer to a specific question from the moderator, with questions identified in sequence, Q1, Q2, Q3, etc.). And note – the retweet, reply, and Follow buttons are all functional!
A2: Qualities of great teachers I had are being kind, patient, and calm. #caedchat
— Joe Williams (@jswilliams) December 16, 2013
A2: Mrs. Maloney, my 5th gr T believed in me,even when I didnt get it 20xs. Shes why Im a teacher I need to find her and tell her #caedchat
— Lisa Highfill (@lhighfill) December 16, 2013
A8 Admins can help Ts by supporting innovative Ts. Also knowing that with innovation comes failure. #caedchat
— Jo-Ann Fox (@AppEducationFox) December 16, 2013
A8: Develop talent on site — site led PDs, teachers coaching each other, and encourage (allow) creativity! #caedchat
— Danielle Lemke (@daniellemlemke) December 16, 2013
A9 Reflect ALLLL the time with your students. Over and over and over again. #CAEdChat
— Tim Bedley (@tbed63) December 16, 2013
I QUIT. I had to.
Hopefully, you’ve never picked up the telephone and felt the hair stand up on the back of your neck as you realized who was on the phone and what they were talking about, felt your heart empty out and felt dread and despair flooding in. I have, twice. The first time, it was my ex-husband. The second time, it was the United Way of Los Angeles. I phoned into a conference call that wasn’t what I expected, and it ended my relationships with the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, Teachers for a New Unionism and Educators for Excellence, and put some others in the doghouse. The call confirmed some of the most discouraging talk I’d heard or read, and some of my most disappointing experiences. After what I heard, I couldn’t stay any longer.
We’ve had a hard time with education reform in Los Angeles, and with a broken relationship between LAUSD and UTLA; what happened this fall just made it all worse. Early in the school year, LAUSD began implementing a plan to provide iPads to every student in the district, and distributed the devices at 47 schools. Students at Roosevelt High School in Boyle Heights quickly figured out how to overcome security filters that blocked social media sites, and the rollout had issues at two other schools. The iPads were quickly recalled and the bumbling start of the iPad program made national headlines in late September and early October. The school board soon erupted in a fit of 20-20 hindsight that was not improved by subsequent emergency meetings. All of this is chronicled in the press, but I mention it to set the stage for a little feint that John Deasy pulled on October 24, 2013, right after the iPad scandal and right before he was going to be called in for his own job evaluation. It was the last straw. Although I had publicly stuck up for him after a UTLA poll of 16,000 educators rendered a 91% “no confidence” vote, I lost all faith in him with the iPad situation, and had to face some very hard realities about reform groups in LA.
The United Way does wonderful things in Los Angeles, with a focus on ameliorating poverty and keeping local activists and educators informed and engaged. I am currently serving on an advisory team for a holiday educator-recognition event sponsored by United Way (I gave my word). I was honored to be a panelist with Warren Fletcher (president of UTLA), Judy Perez (president of Associated Administrators of Los Angeles) and Evan Stone (CEO of Educators 4 Excellence) at an event sponsored by the United Way earlier this year. On this fateful day, I had asked to be included in a conference call the United Way was sponsoring to discuss the state’s Local Control Funding Formula. When I called in, I heard a roll call of 51 educational, community or political groups whose sole purpose on the call was to support John Deasy in his fight to keep his job. The news that Deasy was threatening to quit had changed the topic and galvanized the group. These good people were planning to skip school to show support at the October 29 Board meeting. They were bringing students and teachers to testify in his favor.
I was… flabbergasted. I didn’t have the heart to even make the roll call. By the time they got to “anyone else?” I was too intimidated and overwhelmed to say, “Here.” I didn’t know what affiliation to claim.
Long story short, these folks made a huge showing outside the morning Board meeting, while 35,000 union members were busy serving the needs of our youth. It was a much needed wake-up call. I began to realize the extent of the ignorance and hubris that fuels many ed-reform decisions, as well as the extent of my own ignorance. The addition of businessmen and socialites to a board I sat on made sense suddenly, as did their posturing and pronouncements. If you’ve ever heard people mis-speaking about things you know intimately, or talking about you when they thought you weren’t listening, you know how pained I was and still am. I couldn’t speak then and have just found the words, now.
Some of the groups in the pro-Deasy rally - Students First, Green Dot, KIPP LA – were to be expected, although they have no business in LAUSD’s superintendent evaluation. Others made me gag in wonder – Goodwill of Southern California? Inner-City Struggle? LA Education Partnership? I thought we were friends!
They weren’t talking about me, personally, but they clearly saw themselves as supporting their hero, a hero whose arch-enemy is my union, UTLA. It was, and is, very difficult to understand why they need to draw a protective circle in the sand around John Deasy. (Speculation is rampant, but facts are hard to come by). The bottom line for me personally is that there are too many good people distracted by too many superfluous groups. The best place for an educator to protect and promote public education is the teachers’ union. Over time, for better or for worse, the union is the educators’ bastion and it is set up via a democratic process in which any member can participate. If UTLA needs to be more positive and professional, we need to make it that way ourselves, but that’s another story.
What do these people want, for our youth, really? School choice is a wonderful thing for those of us who actively choose – but we all have the sacred obligation to provide a quality public education for all children. This means I could get my own daughter into a magnet school by filling out the applications, kissing principal butt, following through with phone calls and then getting her to the bus stop at oh-dark-thirty; I did that. But I still have a very real obligation to the kids down the street to make sure that our neighborhood school is fully staffed and resourced, and functioning with district support.
That’s why I phone banked and voted for Prop 30 and am very upset this money is being co-opted for tech toys. My own school badly needs campus aides for safety, reliable internet access to promote equity on the battered old computers we still have, a reading program to ameliorate the effects of poverty and social promotion, and professionals to care for the kids’ out-of-the-classroom needs. What do the 51 groups think is more important?
The question is how to get these 51 groups to share their goals and concerns with UTLA. How did 35,000 teachers alienate these well-intended groups? How can we get on the same page? Help me, United Way. Help us, Warren Fletcher and Eric Garcetti, and all you Board of Education members and everyone else with power, please. Can you have a change of heart? I can.
This is the story of a broken romance. I love knowing the passionate, intelligent individuals I’ve met in the reform arena. I want to go out for drinks as friends. As professionals, I want to hash out our differences for the sake of the left-behind kids and schools, like mine. Is this a case of irreconcilable differences? Or am I kidding myself and need to move on?
Allison Rimm has a recent post at the Harvard Business Review offering some interesting Tips for Energizing Your Exhausted Employees. Rimm speaks of work with IT staff in the medical industry, but see if this sounds like advice that would apply to education.
It was clear from the rich literature on motivation and from my own experience that employees would need five things:
- A solid understanding of the relevance of their work to the hospital’s mission.
- A chance to use their skills and expertise to make a positive contribution.
- More control over their work environment and their future.
- Opportunities to develop new friendships and interdisciplinary collaboration.
- New tools and the support necessary for their efforts to succeed.
Substitute “school” or “district” for “hospital” and we might have some interesting though imperfect parallels to education. You might think the easy part is seeing the relevance of our work to our mission. For teachers, it seems like it should be so direct. Our mission is to educate our students, and our work is… educating our students! The tricky part is that in today’s “reform” climate, understanding of our mission has actually become muddled, in schools and in the general public. The “reform” camp would say that until high stakes accountability era of NCLB, too many schools were neglecting their mission with regard to many underserved students, and they were able to mask those problems – and I don’t entirely disagree with that premise. However, the prescriptions for that weakness in the system brought along a focus on test scores that actually made schools focus on the wrong mission – raising test scores. When we engage in deeper conversations and assume good intentions, I think we find almost no one who actually believes high test scores are “the mission.” And yet, consider how many days, months, years students have lost being prepared specifically for various tests, taking benchmark tests to prep for the real tests, taking entire classes focused on test prep… how many hours wasted analyzing every little bit of testing data as if lives depended on percentile gains, how many days wasted organizing and holding school assemblies and rallies to raise test scores, doling out incentives to students and teachers to raise those test scores…
These practices represent a failure by every adult and organization involved in perpetuating them – but especially those at the top of the hierarchy. It is demotivating and exhausting to put so much time, energy, and even soul – into such a soulless enterprise. So, if we’re going to motivate and energize employees by ensuring they see the relevance of their work to a shared mission, we better make sure we agree on a mission worth pursuing, and means that are worthy of the end.
Do teachers have “a chance to use their skills and expertise to make a positive contribution” to the work of the school or district? Are teachers experiencing “more control over their work environment and their future” in your school or district? Not if curricular and instructional decisions are removed from the teachers’ control. I am absolutely not suggesting a do-whatever-you-want approach. Teachers must be trusted professionals who work collaboratively with trusted administrators at the site and district level to make decisions. We do need to coordinate our work, adhering to relevant standards in ways that provide a “guaranteed and viable curriculum” –while still allowing teachers to exercise individual judgment based on their students and their classroom. We do not honor the skills and expertise of teachers or principals when the important decisions about education are removed from the site, and when only the quantifiable contributions are valued. (But there is reason for hope. Keep an eye on the Teacher Leadership Initiative, a new project involving the coordinated efforts of NBPTS, NEA, and CTQ, rolling out in six states – not including California, unfortunately).
The next item in Allison Rimm’s list is “Opportunities to develop new friendships and interdisciplinary collaboration.” This type of pro-social engagement advice is common in educational and business literature, and yet it’s so routinely undermined in educational policy and “reform” ideas that we end up questioning the motives or intelligence of people who promote individualism and competitiveness in our field. We’ve seen too much advocacy of poorly conceived merit pay schemes that pit us against each other. Using test scores in teacher evaluation is a poor idea on its own, but some systems are so twisted to conform to that bad idea that they even evaluate teachers on test results in subjects they don’t teach, or students they don’t even know. Some reformers push the idea of using evaluations as a tool for dismissal rather than professional growth, ignoring the incentive such a system creates for teachers not to help each other if layoffs seem to be looming in the future.
As for “new tools and the support necessary for their efforts to succeed,” I’d suggest reviewing that idea backwards. Start at success. If we recall Daniel Pink’s book, Drive, we know that certainly people are motivated in large part by the chance to be successful and effective. We crave mastery. (Not surprisingly, Rimm’s list touches on all three of the primary motivators Pink discusses: autonomy, mastery, purpose). So, yes, we can help exhausted teachers work up more motivation by increasing the opportunity to master meaningful work. But such mastery of complex professional work rarely happens in isolation, and without support. So hopefully, no one would overlook the importance of “support necessary” in this advice. That brings us to the end of the analysis, and the beginning of the item – “new tools.” Yes, novelty is appealing, and I can easily think of ways I could improve my teaching if I had the time and support needed to learn and apply new tools. But really, the new tools are the last piece of the puzzle, something to bring in to the mix once we’ve defined and committed to worthy goals, respectful and even friendly collaboration, and ongoing support to ensure everyone’s success.
When I started blogging as part of my work at Accomplished California Teachers, I was just figuring out what I wanted to write about, how to use WordPress, and I don’t think reaching any milestones even crossed my mind. Publishing my 200th blog post today has me in a reflective mood, and rather than take on any particular issue today, I’m going to offer up some thoughts about what I’ve posted at this site over the years, and why I’d recommend blogging to more teachers.
I’ve gradually realized something that I don’t like to admit, which is that the balance of my posts have veered from the original purpose of the blog. The idea behind InterACT was to offer a classroom-based perspective on education policy, with the hope that readers would better understand how decisions that occur far from our schools have a noticeable impact on teaching and learning. With that understanding, all stakeholders would be in a better position to advocate for or create better policies that truly support students. And while I’ve frequently noted in my work that I am a teacher, I haven’t really helped readers see into my school or classroom all that frequently. There are two posts that come to mind right away where I think I used that school perspective well – a post on improvisation in teaching, and a reflection on graduation – but really delving into my own teaching turned out to be less integral to my blogging than I expected. Instead, I’ve found myself drawn primarily towards discussing the false assumptions in the myriad policy disasters unfolding not only in California, but around the country.
However, those problems don’t hit particularly close to home for me, as no one has proposed evaluating my teaching based on test scores, no one has attempted to force me to do more test prep, or put my students into an entire course for test preparation, and no one has proposed experimental and radical “turnaround strategies” for my school. The inequities between wealthy and poor districts are striking and unconscionable, and yet there are myriad education policies (existing and proposed) that would make it even harder to do great work in a struggling district. So, my own classroom has become more of an unspoken subtext, one part of the frame that I use to evaluate what’s going wrong in education policy, mainly in contexts beyond my own immediate experience.
Bearing in mind the limits of personal experience, I’ve sought to include as part of my advocacy the voices of other teachers, and the successes of various schools, districts, and programs around California. That focus has been most pronounced since the publication of ACT’s report on teacher compensation and career pathways, as I’ve highlighted various approaches to promoting teacher leadership and putting that leadership capacity to optimal use for the benefit of students. If you look at the totality of this blog, I think you’ll find that I’ve pushed beyond reliance on anecdote, or even reliance on schools-based analysis; I’ve made a point of incorporating relevant education research, and the the perspectives of experts in various other fields as applicable. We certainly must tell our stories to illustrate what’s important in schools and what helps students and teachers thrive in their work. However, when the story has drawn in the reader or the listener, we need to be able to back up our claims with evidence, and I’m proud of my efforts in that regard.
I recall the first time I introduced myself to someone who responded, “Oh! I read your blog!” – and I still find that a bit odd when it happens. But I’m gratified to say it has happened quite a few times, and after all, that’s the point (people read the blog, I mean – not having them tell me). Though I find it hard to imagine I’ll put another 200 posts up here, I can guarantee I’ll continue writing enough to fill another 200 posts, whether that writing all resides here or finds other outlets. Once you start writing, it’s addictive – in a good way. I’d encourage anyone who’s considering blogging to take a chance and try it. Blogging has its own rewards and its own value in allowing the author to organize and articulate important thoughts and ideas, or to explore difficult questions and challenges. It has the potential to open some significant dialogue, and even to reach unexpected audience, to influence people we didn’t even know were out there. Don’t be intimidated by the number of blogs already out there – we can expand the internet a little more to fit you in.
It seems like an appropriate time to offer my gratitude to some important people:
- Linda Darling-Hammond, Sandy Dean, and Anthony Cody – for starting ACT, trusting me to help run it, and supporting InterACT (and Colin Dean, for help setting up the blog).
- Martha Infante and Kelly Kovacic – for helping InterACT launch with so many of your excellent blog posts
- Lisa Alva Wood, Alice Mercer, Lynne Formigli, Jane Fung, Alex Kajitani, Heather Wolpert-Gawron, Sarah Kirby-Gonzalez, Pat Guggino, Christal Watts, Dave Reid, Leslee Milch, Chris Miraglia, Valerie Ziegler, and Jairo De La Torre – ACT members who have contributed guest blog posts to InterACT.
- Larry Ferlazzo, for countless retweets, for EduBlog award nominations, and for inclusion in multiple lists that include the word “Best” in the title – more than I deserve.
- Everyone involved in Stories From School, the group blog of the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession. You were our original role model, and you remain inspirational. Thanks especially to Mark Gardner and Tom White for the frequent comments here at InterACT.
- For reposting or otherwise sharing some of my posts for a broader audience, thank you to Valerie Strauss, Diane Ravitch, and Larry Cuban, and Faith Boninger (of the National Education Policy Center).
- And for inviting me to submit pieces based on some of my InterACT posts, thank you to John Fensterwald (EdSource Today), Matt DiCarlo (Shanker Blog), and Lois Kazakoff (San Francisco Chronicle).
To those who provided encouragement as I began writing about education, even before the launch of InterACT:
- John Norton, a wonderful mentor and muse for many of us participating in CTQ’s Teacher Leader Network
- Anthony Rebora (Teacher Magazine, now EdWeek Teacher), who supported my first real blogging for a public audience when I “live-blogged” the NBPTS Conference in 2009
- Nancy Flanagan (Teacher in a Strange Land), whose wisdom and insights always impress me, and who is a true model of the “critical friend”
- Bill Ferriter (The Tempered Radical), whose musical use of language and use of musical language have always energized me and cut through any fog of self doubt
And many other TLN friends whose steady engagement inspired the writing of perhaps hundreds of thousands of words that will never see publication beyond our emails and message boards. Those discussions have made a great difference in my knowledge, my thinking, and my writing. Thank you! Renee Moore, Susan Graham, Lori Nazareno, Bill Ivey, Ariel Sacks, Jose Vilson, John Holland, Steve Owens, Cindi Rigsbee, Gail Ritchie, Marsha Ratzel, Claudia Swisher, Mary Tedrow, and the man who got it all started, Barnett Berry.
And finally, some notable blog posts from the previous 199…
The first blog post: Beginning in Sadness
The top five most viewed, in order:
- Common Core Confusion: ASCD Edition
- A Silicon Valley Lesson for Secretary Duncan
- The Danger of a Single Story (Part One)
- Eugenic Legacies Still Influence Education
- Fundamental Attribution Error
The most commented upon post: Common Core: Implications of Collaboration
And a few of my favorites:
- A satirical post I wrote under a pseudonym (which doesn’t show up in my count, which means this is really #201 – oops!) – Batter Up! A Lesson in Value Added
- The truth that value-added proponents and policy makers can’t handle – An Open Letter to California Public Officials
- The cross-examination I wish I could seen in court – Turning the Tables: VAM on Trial
About a week ago, the San Francisco Chronicle published a guest editorial by George Miller – Congressman, NCLB architect, and a “hero” to Democrats for Education Reform – and Russlyn Ali, former Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights. I’ve met Ali briefly, after I spoke to commissioners of the U.S. Department of Education’s Equity and Excellence Commission. She’s done some fine work at the federal level, and has now left government to chair the Emerson Education Fund. While I can find plenty to admire in Ali’s overall commitment to education and civil rights, I disagree strongly with the main thrust of this editorial. In fact, I find it puzzling that a slight disruption in standardized testing has been met with such concern, as if California had abandoned a program that was working well, and wasn’t planning to resume massive amounts of testing in the near future.
The trigger event was the passage of AB484, a bill that eliminated California’s existing standardized testing regimen a year before it was set to expire anyways, and set conditions to allow school districts a trial run with partial Common Core testing this year. The state’s decision creates a potential conflict with federal policy, and the consequences might be costly if the Obama administration and Secretary Arne Duncan withhold tens of millions of dollars in education funding, as they have indicated they will.
There’s a legitimate debate to be had on these issues, but I found the Miller and Ali op-ed to be rhetorically heavy-handed, simplistic, and alarmist. You can read the whole piece for yourself (link above), but here are a few choice lines. They wrote:
The theory is that we should throw away the old tests and start a year from now with the new tests, but in the interim we’ll stop giving vital information to parents and students. AB484 effectively blindfolds educators during this transition at a time when it’s most critical to measure student learning to inform instructional change.
I have never heard a parent who wasn’t also an education reform advocate claim that the tests gave them vital information. I’ve never heard a student say it was vital – far from it. I don’t know how we could operate in schools if we actually relied to such a degree on existing tests – limited, deeply flawed, and results arriving after the school year ends – to avoid working “blindfolded.” And I have no idea why this is the time that it’s most critical to measure student learning; at some point, it must be less critical then? (The now defunct California Standards Tests didn’t measure much student learning anyways – see for example, here, and here).
Miller and Ali:
The Common Core provides the promise and the opportunity for California to again lead the country in education, but not if the state blocks access to student performance data, even for a couple years.
The data being “blocked” (not actually “blocked”) is not actually Common Core-related data.
Miller and Ali:
Californians have a choice. We can stop assessing our students and schools, and stifle progress, furthering the growing perception that our state’s best public education days are behind us. Or we can transition responsibly to new, better standards and uphold California’s education system as one that truly serves the needs of all children.
Yes, we do have a choice, but I think it’s a choice to dismiss false choices as presented here, take a deep breath, and move forward in a logical way – rejecting the sky-is-falling rhetoric of those who seem excessively committed to expensive tests that will yield invalid results due to misalignment with instruction.
My letter to the editor didn’t make it into publication, but here it is:
George Miller and Russlyn Ali suggest AB484 denies California students, parents, and teachers come critical information about student learning. Their position overstates the value and appropriate uses of the tests being eliminated.
The authors suggest AB484 “effectively blindfolds educators” during the Common Core transition. Speaking as an educator, I’m insulted at the idea that I would need a mediocre bubble test administered in spring, with scores arriving in the summer, to tell me anything about my students. As a parent, I’m further insulted at the suggestion that skipping the same mediocre tests, covering a fraction of the curriculum, will somehow impinge on my rights or my sons’ rights “to know how they are performing.”
The tests may have some value at the broadest levels, but it’s no mystery what this year’s tests would have shown: scores would have been slightly up or down compared to last year. Just like every year. And the interpretation of that change would depend, as always, on the bias of the interpreter.
Ultimately, Miller and Ali don’t even offer a concrete suggestion or solution, just an empty claim that eliminating weak tests based on old standards will “stifle progress.” They couldn’t be more wrong.
The Chronicle did print a response to the Miller and Ali op-ed. John R. Porter Jr., Superintendent, Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, wrote in part:
All students in 2014 will be tested in either English language arts or math. All students will be tested in 2015 in both subjects. There is no testing gap “for the next few years” as the congressman states.
California is field-testing a very different computer assessment based on a better curriculum called Common Core in 2014, just like most other states. The federal government allows all states implementing a 2014 field test to not report results to the parents or the public.
We must ensure the validity of the field test first to ensure that test questions are fully aligned with instruction and the new Common Core standards.
Therefore, 2014 is a “test drive” of new assessment approaches with new questions delivered by computer. Miller’s charge that California is providing a blackout on testing is just not true.
More importantly, the congressman implies more testing will lead to higher achievement for California students.
California has been testing all pupils extensively in many subjects in grades 2-11 for more than a decade.
As superintendent of a local school district, I favor strong accountability with fewer but better tests that do not crush students’ curiosity and depth of knowledge.
Education reform has for years been susceptible to the argument that excessive testing does more harm than good. Teachers and unions have been seen as self-interested when we pointed out the problems. Increasingly, other people are saying “Enough!” Students are boycotting (Chicago, New York), parents are opting out (Seattle, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York), school boards rebelling (Texas), principals openly agreeing with boycotts and organizing themselves, and superintendents (Maryland, Virginia, Texas), including Mr. Porter, above, are speaking out.
[EDIT, 11/13/13] I should have included Tacoma Schools Deputy Superintendent Josh Garcia among administrators who have expressed candid concerns about misuse of testing].
For the record, Californians in support of AB484 included not only our governor and legislature, along with leadership in the California Dept. of Education and the State Board of Education, but also the state association of administrators (ACSA), California PTA, the state school boards association (CSBA), and both state teacher unions (CTA and CFT).
The education “reform” vaguard is long overdue for a mea culpa in this regard, but I’m not holding my breath.