Posts filed under ‘NCLB’

Part 4: The Standardized Test

This is a normal standard bell curve. All the test grades are added together and the mean point is determined. The mean point is the top of the curve. This is the test taker who is tagged in the following ways: 50%, 50 percentile, 0 Z-score and 5 stanine. This test taker is average or meets the standard. The test taker is a number. The name happens to be associated with that number. Now that number has a bunch of numbers associated with it.

500px-Normal distribution and scales

Standardized testing has become so attached to NCLB (No Child Left Behind) that the positive benefits are lost. Standardized testing got its big boost in the late 1950’s when the Soviets launched Sputnik into orbit around the earth. Four years later Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gargin became the first man into space. Panic spread through school systems! What’s wrong with our schools? Why weren’t the US first into space. The first phase of emphasis on science and math struck the education world. The arts and social studies were diminished in favor of more science and math. Testing was introduced into schools by The Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS), California Achievement Test (CAT), and American College Tests (ACT). There a mountain of other companies who prepare and publish these tests. Most colleges use the ACT or SAT as an entrance exam. The ACT is not an achievement test. It is a reading test that requires a broad base of general knowledge. Standardized testing is a great tool when it is used as it was designed to be used.

When I began teaching, the IOWA test were the regular used test by schools. It was administrated every other year. The results of the test were poured over by teachers to see if there was a trend in the results. The results of the ITBS showed a drop in math ability from third to fifth grade. It had not been like this before. What happen that caused this drop? Teachers had changed in the fifth grade. They certainly seemed qualified and their pupils did well on all other topics. We looked deeper into the results. Each specific topic that was tested was identified on the data sheets. When we looked, we noted that “long division” was where the problem laid. When we removed that section, the results were more to our liking. What happened? The fourth grade teachers pointed at the fifth grade teachers as the fifth pointed back at the fourth. “Long Division” was not being taught. The teachers thought the other group was doing that part of the math. The curriculum was the problem. It had been ignored completely. (A math teacher before his time no doubt). We were able to identify kids who seemed to working below what the tests seem to indicate or the other way as well. Standardized tests were necessary diagnostic tools.

Somewhere in our journey to improve learning we got lost. Standardized tests are now accountability tools. Pupils and schools must meet certain criteria to be considered passing. Failure to meet these standards can result in pupils not graduating or being promoted; schools can be closed and its staff fired. Instead of using standardized tests to improve the quality, we are using it to show how educators and pupils are not doing their tasks. There is something seriously wrong here.

A very brief word on how tests are standardized. When test results are returned, a statistical sample is chosen to establish a standard. The scores are arranged in a bell curve (see above). This becomes the standard that assigns pupils into stanines. That means that as pupils improve the bell curve slides to the right. Therefore, schools and pupils will always be looked at in a bad light. I taught many pupils who would do poorly on standardized tests but showed a genus in class. I would love to see how Einstein or Edison would do on the ACT. There is something seriously wrong here, too.

In Illinois, as is true in many other states, a state achievement test is administered. The ISAT (Illinois State Achievement Test) is given over a two day period which includes the ACT. Day one has all students taking the ACT and on day two the ISAT is administered. College bound pupils see the value of the ACT but do see the use of the ISAT. The ISAT measures the vast array of state standards and each year the emphasis shifts thus making it a guessing game on the part of educators. The ISAT are very specific test questions much that you might expect on a teachers test given at the end of a unit of study. These unit tests are bit size assessment of material studied. The ISAT is a gluttonous size that chokes the pupil. There is something seriously wrong here, too.

Having taught too long, I know that this will also pass by. Education is constantly reinventing the wheel. But I have noticed that each time the new wheel rolls around something worthwhile sticks around and, as a result, teaching or learning improves. It always amazes me that each generation I have taught manages to do so well and become good and successful people. There is something seriously right here.

November 19, 2007 at 8:18 am Leave a comment

Accountability: A side issue

November 6, 2007 <!–fm44–>Edit

busb-accountability-report-card-nclb.jpg     Accountability is the term used to express the fact that people must be accounted for their actions. The term arose in recent years when the hoi polloi began to grumble about the pols and their affairs. There were those in the public who wanted the politicians to be accountable to their constituency. The next election the pols began the banter that the major concern in the precinct, ward, municipality, county and state was the decline in the quality of education. “Look at these kids today!” The pols ranted. “They are failing and falling far behind the pupils of the world.” The clamor grew and the mob was turned toward what the mob leaders told them. “Schools are failing! Our kinds are in danger!” Noted educators and prominent citizens picked up the battle cry. “Save our schools!” The pols smiled and continued on.

Soon accountability became the buzzword of political races and school reform issues. NCLB legislation forces schools into an accountability crisis. Since the beginning of the formal school, accountability has always been the overseer of teachers. In the 1800’s , teachers had to abide by certain rules regarding morality, dress and work conditions. Teachers were expected to bring their own coal to heat their classroom. After the children left teachers had to clean up and do what ever chores were needed to maintain the school or its environ. Those were the days! As the 20th Century unfolded, expectations of teachers  increased. A college education was expected. Then Teachers had to become certified in what state they taught in. Teachers are evaluated by other professionals. Teachers have always been accountable for the grades they give children and what they teach children in and out of the classroom.

Each year the number of pupils required to attain acceptable levels increase with the idea that all pupils should eventually achieve the level of minimum standard. Well of course!! Any dope knows that. All kids should achieve a certain minimum level in order to graduate. This not the argument. The problem comes when we hold the same standard for all kids. Not all children are the same! A parent with more than one child knows that! Billy is so good at keeping his room neat and clean while Sally uses her floor like a dresser. Sally is a whiz at math and Billy can draw like Rembrandt. No two people (kids or not) are the same. Standardized testing is great when used wisely and judiciously.

Each and every one of us are accountable to someone or in some way. Accountability is a way of life. Pupils are accountability to teachers and that is reflected on a report card. The grades on the report card opens the door for teachers to be accountable to parents. Teachers are also evaluated once a year or, perhaps, every other year by superintendents or principals. School administrators are help accountable to school boards who are in turn help responsible to the citizens of the school district. Accountability is a way of life in education and has been for a long time.

There is nothing wrong with accountability. The problem is when everyone is held accountable to some standard that does not fit everyone. There are no two people on this planet that are identical. Even twins bare differences. Our children in school should be able to read, write, do arithmetic and have a few other skills. But are all the children going to read at the same rate or to the same degree? Some pupils are great readers while other s are plausible readers.  Does this mean that the mediocre readers “does not meet the standard” and faces the consequences as does his school?

Shouldn’t every pupil work to their fullest potential. The problem is that standardized testing does not provide for the varying potentials.

November 6, 2007 at 5:21 am Leave a comment

Quick thoughts about No Child Left Behind

Noses to the grindstone Quick thoughts about No Child Left Behind

 

As a teacher and parent, I am interested in quality education for every child. Whether you have children in school, a homeowners worried about property values, or a concerned citizen wanting taxes dollars spent properly – the basic tenet of the NCLB act is great, every single child should have an equal and fair opportunity to learn. Schools ultimately bare the responsibility to offer a quality education to each child in that school. Not a soul will argue with the fact that our schools should provide quality education.

 

As a teacher in the trenches battling the war against ignorance, NLSB not only keeps me from doing my job but it frustrates me and unfairly gives schools and American education a black eye. The desire to improve education is through testing programs. Schools are required to test all students , regardless of disability. Students are expected to achieve certain levels on the test. Sounds good! But not all students have the same abilities or capabilities. For example, if you were to sign you child up for tee ball. (Have you ever seen 5 year-olds play tee ball. It’s a ball (sorry)!) Kids learn the fundamentals of baseball and have fun. There is no test! Kids run all over. Hit the ball and run. Does not make a difference if its toward third or the pitching  mound- just run. It’s fun! The coaches have fun, the parents have fun and everyone congratulates the kids . They also thank the coaches. The parents go home feeling good. Introduce NCLB to tee ball. Each child will be expected to hit the ball a certain distance, run in a correct direction, run so fast, and catch a ball hit to them. This may well be the goal we set for our children but we also want them to have fun. Now tell the coaches that they are accountable to see each and every child meets these standards. Failure to do so could result in disbanding this team and firing all the coaches. We quibble and vacillate whether this is good. Jeannie is a fantastic hitter and a very coordinated runner. She will probably be an outstanding athlete one day. Roger trips over his own feet and swings the bat with his eyes closed. He laughs and had as much fun as Jeanine but he is placed on a watch list. He may not want to become an athlete or a scholar or a doctor or lawyer. He likes cars. He wants to work with his hands. He does not read as well as Jeannine but NCLB does not care. Roger must have extra tutoring. He must be forced to improve. He is not to ne left behind! Roger is not behind. He is as happy as anything when he listens to the hum of a car engine and tell that the pistons need work. Will Jeanine know that? Roger wants the testing program to include car maintenance. Jeanine would now find herself in the “left behind” category. This is the frustration and unfair aspect of NCLB.

 

More to come on this highly controversial Act. It has become a political football.    

 

October 19, 2007 at 1:46 am Leave a comment


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