‘Be Informed -Posts’ Posts


Latest Teacher Essay That Tears Testing Apart

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Everyone should read in the Chicago Sun Times the latest teacher essay that tears testing apart piece by piece. Fifth-grade Chicago teacher Rachel Schwartz explains how the test fails to help children learn, causes them mental anguish, eats up days that could be devoted to learning (on top of the other tests that Chicago imposes), and doesn’t even align with the Common Core. And Rachel doesn’t rant educationese. She includes a vignette of a real student’s experience, to help ordinary non-educators understand what the imposition of this badly-designed testing means for our kids.

This is the 16th teacher essay that the Sun Times has published over the past year. WE NEED EVERY MAJOR NEWSPAPER IN THE COUNTRY TO BE RUNNING STORIES LIKE THIS.

Illinois Writing Project Teacher Leadership Institute

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The 2015 Illinois Writing Project Teacher Leadership Institute focuses on both writing instruction and strategies for teachers to take formal and informal leadership roles in their schools. It’s scheduled for July 13-28, with an after-school pre-meeting in May and a followup gathering in Sept.

Teachers who speak up for supportive policies for our work and kids’ learning need to be both strategic about using their voice and effective in our own classrooms. This summer institute, widely recognized for its quality and engaging experiences, is for teachers of all grade levels as well as for coaches and teacher leaders who are promoting effective practices in their schools.

Go to the IWP website for more information and an application form.

Many Voices Are Protesting Testing

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Looks like the backlash gaining momentum, as many voices are protesting testing. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s tally of the numerous articles, reports, and critiques as March pummels us with unsettled weather. A wide variety of voices can be heard — parents, teachers, reporters, commentators, and – hey – even Texas state legislators! Here in Chicago, one piece of this is the considerable dust-up as public school officials harass kids and parents who opt out of the present obsolete state test.

Teacher JoAnn Gage, writing for the ASCD Express, urges fellow educators to tell the stories of their classrooms to help the public understand issues like these. (Thanks, Jim Davis, for reminding us about this piece.)

And to help keep this process going, here’s education advocate Nancy Flanagan’s guidance in the Phi Delta Kappan for teachers on what to say to state legislators about better understanding of public education and issues like this one. (Thanks, Nancy and also Marilyn Hollman, who called this to our attention)

Administrators Speak Up Against Attacks on Public Schools

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We’re especially pleased to see so many administrators speak up against attacks on public schools. This includes — can you believe it? — over 230 Arizona school SUPERINTENDENTS through their organization. And the courageous New York high school principal, Carol Burris.

Hopefully, if administrators start speaking truth to power like this, more of the rest of us can begin to as well.

Opposition to Excessive Testing Is Heating Up in Chicago

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Following up on New York, opposition to excessive testing is heating up in Chicago. Teachers at two Chicago schools, Saucedo and Drummond, supported by large numbers of parents, have unanimously voted to boycott the upcoming state tests, which are about to be replaced by the PARCC exams. Kids are over-tested as it is, these teachers are saying, so why take precious time and energy for tests that are already seen as outmoded? Read about it here.

Of course, we know that the Illinois tests never really reflected many of the most important ways that teachers help their students learn — and the new tests coming promise to be even more problematic. Nevertheless, not surprisingly, the city administration is threatening punishment.

Now it’s time to support these courageous teachers who are simply saying out loud what so many of their compatriots are already thinking. If a groundswell of teachers were to stand up with them, it would be impossible to simply fire them all. The more teachers involved, the less the risk.  So if you are a Chicago teacher, or know some, it’s time you added your voice as well.

New York Testing Struggle

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Here’s a quick report on the New York testing struggle: The NY Regents’ recommendations for delay in consequences for the new tests includes a number of important points. And even state legislators are getting in on the act. It’s really important for teachers everywhere to be aware of what’s happening, and to speak up in support of New York teachers. The new tests there were chaotic and brutal, as we’ve previously reported. And similar events are coming to YOUR state as well.

We’ll continue to follow this situation and encourage teachers to support their New York colleagues.

When Real Kids Are Turned into Data Points

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Peter Smagorinsky explains with great clarity what happens for teachers and students when real kids are turned into data points. Cheers for reporter/blogger Maureen Downey and the Atlanta Journal Constitution for publishing Peter’s cogent reflections for the larger public to read.

If Only the Public Knew How Things Really Work in Schools

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If only the public knew how things really work in schools . . .

They would be so much more supportive of us! But we’re the only ones who can explain it to them. Here are two examples, one rather discouraging, the other more hopeful.

So in California, teachers are beginning to learn how “close reading” will be tested by the Smarter Balanced assessments. Anthony Cody shares a guest post by a teacher describing her growing dismay as a presenter stresses that students will be expected to analyze texts like the Gettysburg address without having any background knowledge about it. As an exercise, the participants are to analyze the “Little Miss Muffet” nursery rhyme, after which they’re told it was actually about Mary Queen of Scots — which would of course alter the entire meaning of the text. This is what we’re spending billions of taxpayer dollars on. And by the way, even David Coleman conceded that background knowledge was a good thing. But after his first condemnation of it, the test makers apparently never heard the retraction.  Anyone want to comment?

Next up: Peter Smagorinsky responds, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution to the many online commenters who propose dealing with school budget cuts by eliminating everything but STEM subjects. Peter describes the power and success of an outstanding theater program and its teacher, Michelle Thorne, in Conyers, GA, and how essential it is to the students, the school culture and the whole community. One wondering, though: he sympathizes that budgets have to be cut, since funds are short. But I have to ask: in this recovering economy, why are education funds short, when the stock market is zooming? Anyone want to comment?

But if you comment, don’t just say it to Teachers Speak Up. Tell it to your community

The Real Story on the US PISA Test Rankings

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So here’s the last word from Teachers Speak Up for the crazy year of 2013.

I know most of you, or your educator colleagues, have been shy about telling your own story to the public. But how about sharing some info about the real story on the US PISA test rankings. OK, you’ve been so busy teaching that maybe you don’t recall what these are, so just to remind you: Every 3 years the Program of International Student Assessment administers tests on reading and math to students in 65 countries. The 2013 report puts the U.S.  in 24th place. Sounds bad, right? Public education detractors point to this as evidence that you, as teachers, are failing.

But the details tell a different story. For example, if you look just at the scores for schools where incomes are in the top 10%, the U.S. comes in FIRST. And schools with the lowest income families, well you guessed it. Here’s a great 5-minute video that summarizes the real, troubling statistics — which are not just about schools, but about the influence of poverty in America.

So if you aren’t ready to tell your own great classroom story, how about sharing the video with your friends and colleagues. By the way, it was shared on a new social media news site, www.upworthy.com that’s getting lots of attention — and that’s good.

So happy new year to all. Let’s see if our work can prosper in this next cycle of our lives.

–Steve Z

The Latest PISA International Test Score Comparisons

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The latest PISA international test score comparisons are out, and they portray US education is pretty mediocre. According to the charts, we ranked 20th among other countries in reading, 30th in math, and 23rd in science. As parents, community members, politicians, and education critics begin asking about these numbers, we teachers need to be well informed about them. So along with knowing about the report itself, it’s wise to understand some of their limitations. An excellent article on the Education Week “Curriculum Matters” webpage outlines these. For example, the difference between scores in many cases is not statistically significant, so the actual order in which countries are listed means very little. The best we can actually say about the ranking for US reading scores is that we’re somewhere between 19th and 31st. Rather, we’re grouped among a cluster of countries, with no clear difference among them.

But while we must acknowledge that American schools are not overall high flyers these days perhaps the biggest question is what we should be doing about it in schools that struggle, and this is where teachers’ voices need to be heard. Of course we’ll hear plenty from advocates of harder tests, blanket standards, more charter schools, and firing lots of teachers. But thoughtful educators should do all they can to inform the public and policy-makers about the factors that really can make a difference and that continue to be neglected in too many of the efforts presently called “school reform.” Read Sonia Nieto’s new book, Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds. Or study the role of student attitudes and the classroom contexts that influence them, in the Chicago Consortium on School Research study, Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Non-Cognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance. And then speak up about these things and what you do to address them in YOUR classroom.