Writer’s Block Unblocked
Hello everyone – I’m back. Writer’s block got me good the past few weeks. Part of the issue was a general slowing down after the school year ends. My rhythms and schedules have been further disrupted by travel, my children’s summer schedules, and moving out of my house temporarily during some remodeling.
So, I’m going to try to close that chapter of my writing life this summer by offering some quick thoughts on a few topics I would have typically blogged about in greater detail. Maybe then I can return to my more typical blogging.
Test item leaks in California – Our annual release of test scores for ranking and punishing schools will be delayed for a while because the state officials are dealing with test items that students have photographed and posted on Facebook. Here’s a summary from “The California Report” radio program (audio).
The L.A. Times also covered the story, with a focus on schools in their area that might be affected. Amazingly, the entire schools may be facing significant penalties over this student misconduct. The state may argue that there’s also teacher misconduct involved, as these students should have been more carefully monitored to prevent the photos from being taken at all. I haven’t seen the actual photos, but I can tell you from years of proctoring these exams that it would not be too difficult for a careful high school student with a smart phone to snap a few pictures. I think I’m an attentive proctor, but you’d have to attentive to the point of being intrusive to guarantee the security of the test items.
Why all the uproar? I can’t believe it’s because of concerns about the actual results. By the time the kids share the pictures, there’s not much that can be done with them, and students wouldn’t be motivated to do much anyways. As a high school principal told the L.A. Times, a key problem is that
“The teenagers aren’t held accountable in any way, shape or form for the test. Of course they’re going to take a picture with a cellphone. They also write the names of their boyfriend or girlfriend in the bubbles on the answer sheet.”
I think his comment gets to the heart of the matter: students are probably taking the pictures simply because they can, because they’re bored, or because they are complaining in their own way about the testing itself. Still, the state has to come down hard on the schools in order to remind everyone who’s in charge and how important testing is. Never mind that the test itself is about to be replaced by Common Core assessments, and never mind that the state accountability system (Academic Performance Index, or API) is also likely to be overhauled in the near future.
Tennessee teacher evaluation – What’s up with the folks in the Volunteer State? They’ve invested so much time, energy, and money into improving teacher evaluation, and they keep getting important things wrong. Value-added measures don’t improve evaluations. Performance pay doesn’t improve performance. Giving principals much more work to do with no additional resources doesn’t improve their work either (“I’ve never seen such nonsense” said principal Will Shelton). And when the new system provides some apparent contradictions when the results come back, they assume their tests and data are infallible and that any problems in their system must originate with the people in the system. What a terrible message to send to the professionals in the schools. Larry Ferlazzo called it “Test Result Idolatry in Tennessee” – and it’s hard to accuse him of exaggeration with that term.
“Living in Dialogue” with the Gates Foundation – one of the more interesting items in the blogosphere for the near future might just be Anthony Cody’s attempt to engage with the Gates Foundation in some real dialogue about education reform. The Foundation itself, and Bill Gates individually, have faced considerable criticism for both the substance and style of their involvement in education. The facts that this dialogue began with Cody visiting the Gates Foundation in person, and that the five-part series will appear on both Cody’s blog and the Gates Foundation blog, suggests to me that there are people actually listening to the criticisms and willing to have discussions about the issues. (Disclaimer: Anthony Cody is a friend, and co-founder of Accomplished California Teachers).
EdSource Today – Anyone closely following education news and policy in California should probably have noticed by now, but just in case you missed it, there’s been a mega-merger! Thoughts on Public Education has closed down, and John Fensterwald and Kathy Baron have moved over to EdSource and are contributing to EdSource Today, which debuted earlier this month. Having had a good opinion of all the parties ahead of time, and having spent an hour or so reading from the new site, I think EdSource Today is going to be an excellent resource and encourage readers to check it out.