Category Archives: Testing

Entering the Classroom and AP Classes

Yesterday I finally got into my classroom. I worked on (and finished!) a couple presentations and then began to plan what I want my room to look like this year. The presentations took about four hours to create, so I was fairly tired of being hunched over my computer and decided to call it for the day.

However, looking around my classroom really got me excited to begin a new school year!

I tend to try and include a few things each year that help make the room interesting to students and help students navigate the courses they take. Some of these items are:

  • a bulletin board that includes something to encourage reading good books,
  • a center for classroom supplies which students can use whenever they wish,
  • a bulletin board that allows students to know me better,
  • posters that help students know the class routines (such as what to do when absent),
  • student work examples from the previous year,
  • senior pictures from the previous year, and
  • goal charts.

Even though I’m not “artsy” or “crafty” I enjoy putting my classroom together. The wall art (including the colors and items chosen), the arrangement of the desks, the placement of the teacher’s desk, and more create the atmosphere of the classroom. Just as in a personal relationship, teachers only get one chance to make a first impression with their students and the classroom is an important piece.

My goal in my room is to make sure the students feel comfortable, to ensure they understand that they will be the focus, and  to convey that the students will be working. I’m excited to get started! 🙂

I also took an hour to read some education articles, and one in particular caught my attention. Apparently, Maryland schools are increasing the number of students in AP classes, but the article writer notes “In at least 19 high schools throughout the Baltimore region, more than half of the students who earned an A or B in an AP class failed the exam.” This, of course, means that these students struggle mightily when they get to their universities, and the author also states that “Many students arrive at college with AP courses on their transcripts, but with skills so low they must take remedial classes.”

Numerous things could explain this. Grade inflation, grading on effort, a disconnect between what is taught and what is on the test, guaranteeing higher grades for challenging themselves, students taking classes beyond their abilities, students simply getting an experience (which could provide a preview of a college class), and more.

In my classes I let students rewrite and rework papers and projects as often as they want because my goal is for the students to learn the processes and to improve their skills. AP tests are a one-shot opportunity. There are no rewrites, no reworkings. They can’t ask clarifying questions, receive affirmations, or be nudged in a better direction. When my students take their AP tests, I have to hope they have all the preparation they need to succeed. Not all of them do.

Allowing students to take advanced courses, to me, is a positive even if those students may struggle in them or with the culminating tests. However, this also means not bringing the standards of the course down to the students; we have to bring the students up to the standards of the course. The thorn on this rose, of course, is that some of the students won’t make it, won’t pass the test, but did the students do enough to earn credit in the course?

A test is not a course, and a course is not a test.

To Test or Not to Test

Seattle is seeing its fair share of controversy regarding the required MAPS testing in its schools. Teachers are boycotting the test, and the Superintendent has issued a warning. Now, parents are joining the teachers in their stance against a test the teachers feel provides too little useful information and which they feel has too high of an error margin.

One parent has written an editorial about her support for the test as did the President of the test maker. A teacher who has led a number of education-based political actions also composed an editorial explaining the teachers’ position rationale.

Is this the first salvo fired by teachers in an effort to curb the heavy reliance on testing, or is this an ephemeral action quick to disappear?

I know my school district is about to require three reading tests for high school English students during the school year along with two writing exams. This will eliminate at least a week of teaching and require hours of teacher time to assess. Is it worth it? Probably not. These summative assessments simply tell teachers what they already know from the formative assessments used in the classroom; however, the data isn’t really for the teachers. It’s for the district to have “authentic” data from state test-like exams indicating student readiness for the actual state test.

Are you seeing any anti-testing stands in your area?

Test for the Test

Common Core is Here

Well, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are here, and my district (and a few department members) see it as the panacea for this generation of students. While I don’t have anywhere near that sort of faith in the new standards, I do like the professional development that could stem from the implementation of the standards.

However, I do see three problems looming: too much commonality, too much reliance on hope, and not enough joint accountability.

Firstly, I see my department being pushed to use exactly the same assignments in every class on the same day, almost as if a scripted curriculum could be imposed. Of course, we’re told “not to worry” because the new standards will help us all become better teachers. But, then the same veteran teachers (me, for one) who were successful using the old standards are then teaching my department members how to use the new standards. While I think teaching people what the new standards mean, how to reach the standards, and why scaffolding is needed are all excellent ideas to learn, nothing really new is happening. We’re taking what we have and adapting that to new skill expectations. Fortunately, the CCSS differ little from my state’s old standards. Still, I’ve never believed lock-step assignments and daily lessons take into account student and class individuality and needs, a teacher’s strengths, or student interest.

Secondly, the notion that people think these standards will be the magic pill to cure all of our students’ ills bothers me. Standards don’t help students pass a test or learn a skill or achieve. Teachers do. Teachers of excellence with the abilities to engage students, to adapt to student needs, and to scaffold lessons for students will be successful no matter what standards are adopted. Teachers who were successful with the old standards will be successful with the new standards. Teachers who struggled previously will continue to struggle without strong, reliable mentors and skillful evaluators.

Lastly, as an English teacher, I continue to hear the maxim that “all teachers are responsible for reading,” but only the English Department is held accountable for reading scores. When my school’s state reading test results came in, literary reading (fiction) far surpassed non-fiction reading scores. Instead of asking the other disciplines–which teach non-fiction almost exclusively–to improve non-fiction teaching approaches and to become more skilled reading instructors, the English Department is again being asked to add something to its already crowded curriculum.

And, the new CCSS backs this up. An expert speaking to my department about the new standards suggested that 70% of a student’s reading load be non-fiction. I responded that this is splendid since only 1/6 of a student’s day is spent in a literature-based class (reading fiction), which means that students currently read non-fiction 83% of the day (80% if we exclude P.E.). I was told “no, this means the English Department should teach much, much more non-fiction.”

Now, I’m not against teaching non-fiction texts. I do this with every unit I teach, generally using non-fiction texts to help set the context for the fictional readings with which students are engaged. Then, my students must integrate the contextual information into their fiction-text responses and writing.

In short, I’d like to see school-wide reading trainings to begin and to hold all disciplines accountable for raising students’ reading levels. The CCSS could help here since all included subject areas have reading standards now, but administrators at the building and district levels must get on-board and help support this philosophy with action and not just talk.

P.S. People want to compare schools, districts, and states across the nation with the new tests, but I think we missed the boat here by not using the SAT or ACT. How helpful would it have been to pay for kids’ tests already required (or expected) by colleges and universities? Plus, we could have already looked at comparisons. Granted, all curricula are not set up with the SAT or ACT as the endgame in mind, but when have we ever done this? And, the kids still take those exams.

P.P.S. The text book companies have strong lobbyists.

Schools Are Doing Well

I posted the following on a message board. What do you think?

I don’t understand why people think WA schools are failing. ACT and SAT scores are up (and above the national average) even with ever more students tested each year.

We still have kids entering the best schools in the nation and earning the highest of awards.

Schools are more diverse than ever, have more special education students than ever (the numbers are increasing rapidly here), and have more ELL students than ever. And still the scores climb.

Areas of affluence perform better than areas of poverty. It’s the same around the nation.

Schools reflect their communities.