A valedictorian speaks her mind

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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fridmarr » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:20 am

theckhd wrote:
Melathys wrote:What needs to happen to "fix" this is beyond schools, imo. When you think about when the US was dominating education and sciences...Einstein was a superstar, a celebrity. He wasn't a celebrity for being on reality tv, or being a no talent hack that pre-teen girls think is cute, he was famous for his achievements as an intellectual.

There's an over-arching anti-intellectual undercurrent going on in culture as a whole nowadays that wasn't present back then either.
Hmm, I couldn't disagree with that more. I feel bombarded by intellectual elitism. There certainly is a backlash from that though, some of which is almost certainly what you are referring too. Frankly, I think culturally we have some pretty significant problems that would need to be shaken out before we'd be able to address some of our systems.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fridmarr » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:32 am

Pala wrote:We need Bill Nye back on TV! I loved that show. I mainly posted the article because I felt that I wish I had done more at school even with having good grades. Unfortunately I didn't realize my interests until much later in college and after. I don't know how to enlighten kids so they know what they want to do earlier than I did. I would bet that is part of what drives a teacher, to help kids find the things they like.
Do you think it was possible for you to find your interests when you were in high school? I don't necessarily know if we can or even should try to get kids to find their calling earlier. I think sometimes that is a result of life experiences, which tends to happen on a timescale independent of the school system.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Melathys » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:34 am

Dorvan wrote:
Melathys wrote:I will admit that perhaps our school system has been going down hill before no child left behind, but all that program did was give crappy teachers the opportunity to continue to be crappy.


In what way did life pre-NCLB prevent crappy teachers from being crappy? One of education's biggest problems for a long time has been entrenched teacher's unions that are opposed to any movement towards basing employment or compensation on some sort of teacher performance metric. While standardized tests are no panacea, they at least provide a starting point for being able to make statements about how much students learn over the course of the year, which provides some chance of measuring how effective teachers are being. We have a long way to go in improving measurements of student progress and teacher performance, but to pretend that teaching is more effective when teachers are students aren't evaluated at all is silly.

To state that standardized testing discourages doing anything but reading out of a textbook is foolishness. Standardized testing doesn't enforce any pedagogy, and even if you're reading out of a textbook that's directly related to the testing material, it's still an extremely ineffective method of teaching, which will be reflected in student test scores. A dynamic and engaging teaching style should blow away such teaching methods, and if such a teaching style can't beating the brain dead baseline of "read from the textbook", perhaps it's time to reconsider whether the method that teacher is using actual *is* effective. Just because a teaching style is creative doesn't mean it's effective.

To me, your anecdote indicates a failure of administration (and yes, school administrations have about as many problems with employment entrenchment as teachers) than of standardized testing. To interpret "student need to know X, Y, and Z" as "X, Y, and Z must be taught be reading them from the textbook, and no other content may be discussed" is foolishness that says more about the principals than the evaluation system.

Rather than looking at pedagogical concerns, however, if you're talking about course and curriculum content, it's certainly fair to say that too much focus on standardized testing can limit the scope of curricula. I'm open to hearing your thoughts on how best to address the issue. Of course, if enrichment material is displacing the fundamental curriculum, isn't there in fact a problem? The most effective teachers I've had, and the kind of teacher I aim to be, is one who is effective by pushing students beyond the bare minimum, which means neither stopping at the boundaries of a standardized test *nor* simply dropping core content to spend more time on my pet interests.


I was saying that crappy teachers don't go beyond the textbook, and after NCLB textbook teaching is what is expected. Any teacher that tries to go beyond that, and actually get children involved and interested is disciplined for not following the textbook. (This supports crappy teachers) In theory, it should work by giving a standard students are expected to reach. Like you said though, its more administrative. The principals don't care for anything other than what the tests show, and as such we are dumbing down our education to meet the tests, and nothing else. I'm not saying that we should dismiss any kind of measurement of success, but what we have going on now seems to be having the opposite effect of what is desired.

To state that standardized testing discourages doing anything but reading out of a textbook is foolishness.


Thats exactly what standardized testing encourages. Teachers are not allowed to teach anything other than what is tested on. I get to hear this constantly from my mom.
As I said, my mom is national board certified. The certification is a long and difficult process. There are some that are proud they got their certification on their 8th try...my mom got it on her first. ( http://www.nbpts.org/ ) You would think that would give her some leverage to teach the way she knows is effective, but this is not the case. She gets "a talking to" very often for not following textbooks by the letter, whereas her colleagues are praised for going through pages 30-70 in a certain textbook for a certain day. And my mom is not the only national board certified teacher I know of with these very same problems. The teachers that actually care about teaching are becoming a rare breed, as they are getting fed up with the system and are now "getting with the program" and just biding their time for retirement.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Melathys » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:39 am

Dorvan wrote:
Melathys wrote:totally not sure if I want to read that, lol. I can't even watch the news anymore, the idiocy running rampant on the news networks is driving me insane.


Fortunately, I am not an idiot. Are you really going to complain about apathy one minute, and then state that reading a few paragraphs of discussion is too much effort the next?


Where in any way did I say reading something was too much effort?

*eh, I'll just stay out of this now, before I go about saying things that are better left unsaid. But I would appreciate it if you don't try to put words in my mouth.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:43 am

Melathys wrote:I was saying that crappy teachers don't go beyond the textbook, and after NCLB textbook teaching is what is expected. Any teacher that tries to go beyond that, and actually get children involved and interested is disciplined for not following the textbook. (This supports crappy teachers) In theory, it should work by giving a standard students are expected to reach. Like you said though, its more administrative. The principals don't care for anything other than what the tests show, and as such we are dumbing down our education to meet the tests, and nothing else. I'm not saying that we should dismiss any kind of measurement of success, but what we have going on now seems to be having the opposite effect of what is desired.


Several flaws in this paragraph...once again you're conflating content and pedagogy. In what way does making sure that certain content is covered mutually exclusive with getting students involved and interested? Though content plays some role, the level of engagement of students has far more to do with how you teach than what you teach. Again, no suggestions from you on how it could be done better, or any acknowledgment of the pitfalls of no measurement at all.

Melathys wrote:Thats exactly what standardized testing encourages. Teachers are not allowed to teach anything other than what is tested on. I get to hear this constantly from my mom.
As I said, my mom is national board certified. The certification is a long and difficult process. There are some that are proud they got their certification on their 8th try...my mom got it on her first. ( http://www.nbpts.org/ ) You would think that would give her some leverage to teach the way she knows is effective, but this is not the case. She gets "a talking to" very often for not following textbooks by the letter, whereas her colleagues are praised for going through pages 30-70 in a certain textbook for a certain day. And my mom is not the only national board certified teacher I know of with these very same problems. The teachers that actually care about teaching are becoming a rare breed, as they are getting fed up with the system and are now "getting with the program" and just biding their time for retirement.


How do her kids test relative to her peers? If they're doing fine, she should just go to the administration with the data and (tactfully) tell them to shove it. Also note that the tests make the kind of rebuttal possible. Without it administrators are just as capable of deciding that they don't like your teaching methods, but you don't have anything to back you up in rebuffing them.

As for teachers who actually care becoming a rare breed...cite your sources please.

Rather than get trapped in a world of anecdotes though, I'd rather hear what your ideas are about teacher and student evaluation. It's easy to point out that current methods aren't perfect...but much more difficult to analyze why that is and how those methods could be improved. Saying "it sucks, we'd be better off without it" is a recipe for continued entrenchment of mediocrity.
Last edited by Dorvan on Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:01 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fridmarr » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:44 am

Melathys wrote:Thats exactly what standardized testing encourages. Teachers are not allowed to teach anything other than what is tested on. I get to hear this constantly from my mom.
I don't think that standardized testing (which has existed forever) encourages that. Perhaps some of the incentives might, like when we base funding off of it. However adherence to the teaching for the tests in the manner that you describe, reeks of incredibly shitty administration.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 11:45 am

Melathys wrote:*eh, I'll just stay out of this now, before I go about saying things that are better left unsaid. But I would appreciate it if you don't try to put words in my mouth.


Sorry, perhaps, I misread you. You stated that you didn't necessarily want to read that, and that news these days is full of idiocy. That implication of your statement seemed to be that I was probably just parroting idiocy I'd seen on the news. My apologies for misreading your intent...I really would like to engage on the problem-solving side of the issue, and I think there's a lot of interesting stuff and I know I don't have all the answers. I do however think that recognizing and embracing the importance of the idea of student and teacher performance measurements (not necessarily in their current form, but as a general principle) is an important first step.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby theckhd » Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:10 pm

Melathys wrote:Thats exactly what standardized testing encourages. Teachers are not allowed to teach anything other than what is tested on. I get to hear this constantly from my mom.

Standardized testing doesn't encourage that. Stupid administrative rules encourage that. Possibly based on a flawed interpretation of what standardized testing provides.

What other objective measure of student performance are you suggesting they use though? You can't separate good teachers from bad teachers without somehow evaluating the job they've done, which means you need to somehow evaluate what the student learned from their class. And anyone with a rudimentary understanding of the scientific method should know that this evaluation should be done under conditions that remove as many sources of bias as possible to make sure the results are meaningful. Hence, standardized testing.

Can a student "test badly" and end up not reflecting what they truly learned on a standardized test? Sure. That's one data point though, another student might end up performing better than average for different reasons. The whole point of this sort of testing is that with enough samples, this sort of variation should cancel itself. It's basic statistics.

Can a teacher get unlucky and get a bad crop of students one year? Of course. That's why you don't make decisions off of a limited data set. If those students are "bad" (whatever that means), it should be evident by looking at their scores for previous years and future years.

If 5 years down the line, Ms. Sparklehorse has 9 years of stellar performance and one year of sub-par performance, and further investigation shows that the majority of the students in that year's class consistently performed poorly for other teachers as well, then it should be clear that we can't hold that year against her. If, on the other hand, Ms. Babypunter consistently has classes that perform below expectations, and those students perform considerably better for other teachers before and after, we have evidence that maybe Ms. Babypunter wasn't cut out for the job.

The problem is that this all takes time - to collect a statistically significant sample, you need to track many children over many years. If you try and make decisions based on limited data, you're going to make bad decisions. You need to find an administration that has a rudimentary understanding of statistics and the patience to put that understanding to proper use.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fridmarr » Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:15 pm

theckhd wrote:Ms. Babypunter
Not to diminish the rest of your post, but I have to admit that name caught me off guard :P
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:20 pm

theckhd wrote:The problem is that this all takes time - to collect a statistically significant sample, you need to track many children over many years. If you try and make decisions based on limited data, you're going to make bad decisions. You need to find an administration that has a rudimentary understanding of statistics and the patience to put that understanding to proper use.


Well, you don't necessarily *have* to track children individually over the course of many years. Another option is to collect demographic information about the children, then look only at beginning and end of year results and compare the amount of improvement to that of other classes with similar demographics and starting ability. Tracking students individually would have added value, to be sure, but looking at the performance relative to a sample collected over an entire state or country should be able to produce meaningful results and would be much easier to manage.

One other nitpick to your post...from a teacher evaluation perspective it's probably better to measure student progress rather than taking the absolute final test score. By doing so, you mitigate issues like the bad crop of students. It also rewards teachers for helping their advanced students continue to advance, which is a common (and completely valid) criticism of only looking at test results in terms of a minimum standard.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby theckhd » Thu Aug 12, 2010 12:43 pm

Dorvan wrote:Well, you don't necessarily *have* to track children individually over the course of many years. Another option is to collect demographic information about the children, then look only at beginning and end of year results and compare the amount of improvement to that of other classes with similar demographics and starting ability. Tracking students individually would have added value, to be sure, but looking at the performance relative to a sample collected over an entire state or country should be able to produce meaningful results and would be much easier to manage.

Tracking students individually makes it a lot easier to filter out the "bad crop" issues though. You might be able to get meaningful results from demographic information, but it gets into tricky territory. One student from a poor, predominantly black neighborhood is not necessarily going to correlate to another student with similar demographic information, even from the same neighborhood. Maybe Bobby's parents encourage him to engage in school by involving themselves in his education, while Billy's parents don't show the same interest and let him skip doing his homework. That sort of factor can make a pretty significant impact, and it would be lost if you abstract it out to demographic information.

I'm also talking about small-scale tracking here. I wouldn't expect the state to track every student - they could certainly abstract out to demographic data and work at that level. But for evaluating individual teachers, you'd want to be working on the school district level. It's well within the capability of today's technology to track every student in a given district over their entire primary school career. That information can be digested and compared to state or national norms, of course, but I think the most interesting data comes from direct comparison of the same student's data from different teachers.

Dorvan wrote:One other nitpick to your post...from a teacher evaluation perspective it's probably better to measure student progress rather than taking the absolute final test score. By doing so, you mitigate issues like the bad crop of students. It also rewards teachers for helping their advanced students continue to advance, which is a common (and completely valid) criticism of only looking at test results in terms of a minimum standard.

I don't think I ever mentioned what data I expected them to collect, but this is basically what I had i mind. A single final test score, while useful, doesn't really tell the whole story. You'd really want to see the results of the same standardized test from the beginning and end of a semester, and a point or two in the middle wouldn't hurt either. That way you could look at improvement over the course of a year as well.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:00 pm

theckhd wrote:I'm also talking about small-scale tracking here. I wouldn't expect the state to track every student - they could certainly abstract out to demographic data and work at that level. But for evaluating individual teachers, you'd want to be working on the school district level. It's well within the capability of today's technology to track every student in a given district over their entire primary school career. That information can be digested and compared to state or national norms, of course, but I think the most interesting data comes from direct comparison of the same student's data from different teachers.


I think that teacher evaluation is a district-level task, but I don't see any reason the state couldn't administer the tests and collect the results, then make them available to districts. Most standardized testing is already done at the state or national level anyway. As far as the utility of tracking students over the long term, I actually think that's a bit misleading. Developmentally students change a lot over the course of their K-12 education, even year to year...plus the curriculum varies quite a bit from one grade to the next. I think it's far more difficult to compare a child's fourth grade progress to their fifth or sixth grade progress than it is to compare their fourth grade progress with thousands of other students in similar circumstances.

theckhd wrote:I don't think I ever mentioned what data I expected them to collect, but this is basically what I had i mind. A single final test score, while useful, doesn't really tell the whole story. You'd really want to see the results of the same standardized test from the beginning and end of a semester, and a point or two in the middle wouldn't hurt either. That way you could look at improvement over the course of a year as well.


Oops, I realized after the fact that you didn't actually say that...maybe I need to study and take a reading comprehension test again myself ;)
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Melathys » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:25 pm

I will admit that perhaps the problem lies more with administration than the tests themselves. Evaluating performance based on standardized testing assumes a logical and rational administrative team. This is not always the case.

The gripes I hear from my mom on a constant basis are the same as my landlord, also a national board certified teacher. My mother is in North Carolina, my landlord is in California, indicating that this is not a localized issue.

Speaking of the "bad seeds". I don't know the criteria of how they are designated as "problem students", but they are. Teachers aren't supposed to have more than 4 such "problem students" in any given school year, my mom had 9 students classified as such in one year. At the end of that year my mom was given the "option" to resign from that particular school due to the students not performing well.

The tests themselves come back positively for my mom, its all the in between that gets her in trouble.

When asked about her progress, my mom can reply that she covered such and such subjects, and her tests show that they learned this and that. What she gets in response is "What pages from suchandsuch text did you cover today/this week?". When she can't state specifically what pages from what text were taught at what time, she gets a negative evaluation. My mom believes in integrative learning ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Integrative_learning ) (that might be the right term, but I'm not entirely sure. Basically it means to combine various subjects into one cohesive lesson plan, showing relationships between one subject and another. This method promotes problem solving, not "here's the answer, now learn it") This means that she doesn't really do.. hour 1 is math, hour 2 is literature, hour 3.. etc etc. For her performance evaluations though, she is expected to show that between this hour and that hour she taught math, between this time and that time she taught science. When she can't show that, she is labeled as a bad teacher.

Sure, my knowledge and experience about this might be second hand, but I trust who I'm talking to. Do I have answers? no. But like was said, admitting and finding the faults is a step towards an answer. I'll admit, though my opinion of the current standardized tests may not necessarily positive, my negative feelings about it are somewhat diminished through this discussion, while at the same time increasing my negativity towards administration.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby gtechman » Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:49 pm

I don't think the real issue is kids taking tests...because you have to have some way of evaluating them. The real issue is that improvement in these specific tests have become so important that the teachers teach how to pass a specific test instead of just teaching.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Kelaan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 2:28 pm

theckhd wrote:
Melathys wrote:Thats exactly what standardized testing encourages. Teachers are not allowed to teach anything other than what is tested on. I get to hear this constantly from my mom.

Standardized testing doesn't encourage that. Stupid administrative rules encourage that. Possibly based on a flawed interpretation of what standardized testing provides.


It's not so much the fault of testing -- that's great. The problem is when school districts are funded based on their performance on the tests. Suddenly, that teacher who teaches well, yet whose students are not drilled specifically on the test, performs less well than teaches who teach ONLY the test -- and so the districts end up punishing them, or firing administration for having slipping test scores.

The counterproblem is, how do you identify which schools suck, and how do you encourage/enforce them to get better, without this? I don't know. I do know that every teacher I know of (including my mother) who /cares/ about their kids' learning, and who teaches them Very Well, still get reprimanded for not following The Book in rigid ways.
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