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A valedictorian speaks her mind

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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fivelives » Thu Aug 12, 2010 3:41 pm

Has anyone tried getting rid of yearly standardized tests and moving them to milestone years?

Like, 6th grade -> pass the test or do remedial schooling in the areas you're lacking in. If you pass, you move to Junior High/Middle School (whatever people want to call it these days).
The next one would be 8th grade to enter into High School
Then in HS, just make taking the SAT/ACT mandatory at the junior level in order to go on to a "celebratory senior year", with the curriculum for seniors either trade oriented (think trade schools for specific job/career paths) or college prep oriented (higher math/english/science courses).

As far as teacher performance evaluations go, those could be peer-driven and student-driven, with students being able to determine whether or not their teachers were effective, in addition to peer reviews from administrative staff and other teachers. Then be draconic about it - shitcan the lowest x% of teachers based on their performance reviews, and give the highest x% raises or other perks.

This would take some of the pressure off the teachers to just "teach to the test", and it could weed out quite a few bad teachers, although I can see where politics would get dirty fast in the peer-review side of it.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Melathys » Thu Aug 12, 2010 5:15 pm

When I went to school in virginia, there was a test you took in the 8th grade. If you didn't pass the test you didn't go on to high school. At least that's what we were told, I don't know if it was actually true because I didn't know of anyone who failed it.

*edit. And yea, peer review would probably fail because of politics.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fivelives » Thu Aug 12, 2010 5:33 pm

I'd think that it would be mitigated somewhat by the student review - they would want to be "good" teachers for the peer review, but "fun and interesting" teachers for the student review.

Maybe set up an independent review body that interviews parents, students, and other teachers/administrative faculty instead of having a peer review system? That ended up being my argument in that tenure paper I was writing last semester. It could be

Overall though, I think letting student feedback influence curriculums and affect teachers would be an excellent thing - the only problem is how would it be feasible to provide a check for teachers that just curry favor with their classes.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 6:02 pm

Peer review can easily become too political (plus, how exactly would you implement it? Teachers don't observe each other much day to day). Student evaluations at the K-12 level are a terrible way of evaluating teachers, as you'll mainly find out how easy the teacher grade, and give students leverage over their teachers' jobs, which is an extremely unhealthy dynamic. A teacher's job is to teach, so what better way to measure their performance than how well their students actually learn?

What's the advantage of not testing yearly anyway, though? If a student is falling behind, they're best served if there's some kind of intervention ASAP...not by waiting a few years until they're a grade and a half behind.

Re: "teaching to the test". When push comes to shove, if the test is actually measuring what we want students to learn, then isn't teaching to the test a good thing? If the tests aren't measuring what we want students to learn, then I think we'd be well served to change the tests so they are in alignment with what we want students to learn. I don't really buy the argument that what we really want students learning is somehow fundamentally unmeasurable.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Melathys » Thu Aug 12, 2010 7:14 pm

If the test was comprehensive enough. The thing is though, with soooo much emphasis on a test, you end up with students learning how to take a test. As opposed to learning how to learn, and general problem solving skills. Ie, we're not testing kids on what we want them to learn, but instead on what we want them to memorize.

And that's what has my mom so frustrated. She loves to get students to actually think and learn. Instead, students are expected to memorize, rather than learn. (Any theater major could explain the difference between memorization and learning)

Again, I'll concede that perhaps a problem lies less with the test and more with implementation and administrative personnel.

And I think too many people are expecting the teachers to do too much regarding education. A very large part, imo, is the home environment. For example, my mom had one student with an IQ of 80. This kid and his parents worked very hard, and he got decent grades. In fact, this kid got better grades AG (gifted) students. These AG students put near zero effort into their school work, and the parents didn't help. My mom is specifically certified to teach AG students, so its not like she doesn't know what to do with smarter kids. For the most part, the smarter kids (and their parents) seem to resent a teacher's attempts to challenge them academically. (Again, second hand knowledge)
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 7:45 pm

Melathys wrote:If the test was comprehensive enough. The thing is though, with soooo much emphasis on a test, you end up with students learning how to take a test. As opposed to learning how to learn, and general problem solving skills. Ie, we're not testing kids on what we want them to learn, but instead on what we want them to memorize.


What does it mean for someone to have good general problem solving skills? What would make you say "that person has good problem solving skills" or "that person does not"?

Furthermore, standardized testing does not mean just multiple choice fill in the bubble tests. There's plenty of educational research out there on level of knowledge and how to both teach and evaluate them (e.g. search for Bloom's taxonomy). Good tests evaluate skills beyond rote memorization.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fivelives » Thu Aug 12, 2010 8:29 pm

The problem with designing tests like that is that they have to be standardized, i.e. accessible to everyone. It's its own cesspool of buzzwords like "low income" or "low opportunity" or "ethnic minority", with the associated masses of research that prove conclusively that certain questions aren't written with <whatever the latest buzzword is> in mind.

Regarding teacher evaluations by students, that would be self-correcting. If the results were too heavy either way, then obviously that would be a case that would merit special attention. The system would be self-correcting because most (note: I say most) students are honest, and they know what they liked/didn't like about a teacher. Anything too far off the "norm" would naturally be flagged for review - the excellent teachers would naturally get the most reviews, along with the truly piss-poor teachers. Sure, some mediocre teachers would squeak by, but that's where peer review would come into play.

Peer review, I already mentioned the political aspect to it. Teachers don't interact much day-to-day, but administrative staff does. Those are the peers that would have the biggest influence on the reviews, and again politics would be a problem. The way I suppose would work around that would be an independent reviewing body.

Think about the milestones I'm talking about, here

K-6 you learn how to color inside the lines, how to read, multiplication tables and basic arithmetic. This can easily be compressed into a year-long curriculum especially if it only focuses on the parts where children are lagging behind. I'm not talking about compressing 6 years into a single remedial year, but a class dealing with math and a class dealing with reading for the children who are remedial in each category. Someone who is remedial in both might have a year to make it up to the basic level required, then be moved on but flagged as "special needs".

7-8 (middle school), you learn how to write research papers and basic logic/reasoning skills, plus a little bit more advanced math like pre-algebra. Again, a remedial writing class, logic/reasoning class (what do you think "social studies" taught, after all, but how to form informed opinions?), and remedial math class would cover these categories nicely.

9-12 (high school) is where you get into the nitty gritty. This is where the cutoff would be the scores on the SAT/ACT and the student makes the choice whether to enter trade school or go on to university level.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 8:34 pm

Fivelives wrote:The system would be self-correcting because most (note: I say most) students are honest, and they know what they liked/didn't like about a teacher.


This assumption is, truly for lack for a better phrase, bat-shit crazy. Even when their intentions are good (which they aren't always), children have a very skewed view of what is fair or unfair, and very little idea of what makes for effective instruction. Although there will be a few exceptions, by and large the only thing you'll find out from student evaluations is how much the students liked the teacher personally, which has only a vague correlation with how effective their instruction was.

Fivelives wrote:but administrative staff does


Are you talking about their interaction with teachers? If so, I call BS. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of time spent by teachers in school is spent in a classroom with just students. The idea that administration is going to be able to evaluate teachers based on their perception of them at faculty meetings or some such strikes me as a bit oddball. What sort of interactions were you thinking of when you wrote this?

As for the rest....the idea that you're going to suddenly make up several years on falling behind by a single year of remediation (while the goal posts continue to move forward) is also insane. I mean, moving up two grade levels of instruction in a single year is a rare and major accomplish for students who are behind. If catching up was as easy as you claim, they wouldn't be falling behind in the first place. It also doesn't address the question of why it wouldn't be better to make smaller corrections along the way.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fivelives » Thu Aug 12, 2010 9:06 pm

That would be the teacher's job, to make those small corrections from year to year. By not being forced to rush everyone through to meet the basic standardized test requirements, they would be able to make minor tweaks to their curriculum and teaching plan for the year as necessary.

The remedial classes would basically be what we have now - teach to the test and hope something sticks. There's a difference between being a thinker and being a test-taker. Some of the most absolutely brilliant people that I know are horrible test takers, and some of the most horseshit stupid people I know are brilliant test takers.

The teachers that change lives, the teachers that are the most effective, are the teachers that children like, respect, and trust the most. So how is finding out which teachers students like the best ineffective?

It's easier to make an unbiased survey than it is to standardize a test. Here's an example:

Rate the following on a scale from 1-5:
How easy was the material to understand?
How approachable was the teacher?
How well did the teacher explain material?
How well were questions answered?

What were the 3 best things about the class?
What were the 3 worst things about the class?

What were the 3 best things about the teacher?
What were the 3 worst things about the teacher?

What would you improve about the class curriculum for next year's students?
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Dorvan » Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:13 pm

Fivelives wrote:That would be the teacher's job, to make those small corrections from year to year. By not being forced to rush everyone through to meet the basic standardized test requirements, they would be able to make minor tweaks to their curriculum and teaching plan for the year as necessary.


And how is a teacher to make adjustments if they're not assessing their students? That's what testing is about: assessment. If a teacher doesn't have data about how well their students are doing, they cannot do their job effectively.

Fivelives wrote:The remedial classes would basically be what we have now - teach to the test and hope something sticks. There's a difference between being a thinker and being a test-taker. Some of the most absolutely brilliant people that I know are horrible test takers, and some of the most horseshit stupid people I know are brilliant test takers.


A well designed test correlates strongly without the outcome being measured. I certainly can understand the first statement, the some students don't do so well under pressure...and that is a challenge for designing evaluation tools. I call horse shit on people not knowing the material but doing brilliantly on tests however...only truly terrible test design permits such a result. I'll be the first to say that terribly-designed tests are not useful.

Fivelives wrote:The teachers that change lives, the teachers that are the most effective, are the teachers that children like, respect, and trust the most.


Bullshit. There's a vague correlation there, to be sure. But just as everywhere else in life, likability and competence are to very different things. Adults often have enough trouble telling the too apart...students whose reasoning skill and sense of perspective are far from fully developed? They'll tell you who grades the easiest and who's most pleasant to talk to. Your perception of student assessments at the K-12 level is hugely naive and makes me wonder how much you've actually interacted with students in a classroom setting.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby thegreatheed » Thu Aug 12, 2010 10:53 pm

Regardless of the best way to measure merit and good teaching, I think it's pretty obvious that tenure is about the worst idea possible. Once teachers put in a bit of time, they get near immunity from dismissal? Tenure has nothing to do with good teaching, or good results, or effective education. So, in my opinion, the first step to installing a bit of accountability is to abolish and/or drastically change tenure.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Chicken » Fri Aug 13, 2010 2:19 am

At least where I live the test designs do actually have one fatal flaw. All the standardized tests consist of multiple choice questions, always with four possible answers. It's a limitation of a dated automated computer-based grading used. At any rate, the questions and answers are designed as such that there's nearly always two choices that are nearly the same, and two other choices that are very different from the other choices. The two choices that are nearly the same contain the correct answer in most cases. Teaching kids to identify this basically means that even if they don't understand the question, they can still look at the answers and from there narrow down to two possible answers that are most likely right. It won't get them acing their tests, but it does give them a much larger chance at guessing the correct answer, which in turn means they'll end up with higher results than they should be getting.

That's something that I do believe is in the process of being fixed, but it's a flaw that only really came to light with the introduction of school funding based on test results (As previously most students that noticed this trend in the tests were the ones that would've scored high anyway). Ever since school funding started working that way average test results have gone up... Except there's also been a large increase in the amount of students who turn out to end up with a curriculum too tough for them in high school as a result of them scoring higher in their tests than they should have scored.

At any rate, the standardized tests in general are a good thing. The flaw, at least where I live, lies in that the funding based on them is based on the national average without taking into account factors like the cultural background of the students on each school; in other words children who aren't native speakers of the local language (And who also have parents without a good grasp of the local language in many cases) are expected to get the same results as children who are native speakers, despite the fact that native speakers have a clear advantage on most of the standardized tests.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fivelives » Fri Aug 13, 2010 7:19 am

Dorvan wrote:And how is a teacher to make adjustments if they're not assessing their students? That's what testing is about: assessment. If a teacher doesn't have data about how well their students are doing, they cannot do their job effectively.


If a teacher can't tell that a student isn't doing well in their classes without a standardized test, then that teacher deserves to be fired. Besides, I'm not saying to eliminate all testing, only the standardized tests that dictate nearly every lesson plan in the country. Sorry if I wasn't clear on that aspect of it. Teachers will still give out grades, but they will be free to teach in an effective manner instead of reading out of the book, basically.

A well designed test correlates strongly without the outcome being measured. I certainly can understand the first statement, the some students don't do so well under pressure...and that is a challenge for designing evaluation tools. I call horse shit on people not knowing the material but doing brilliantly on tests however...only truly terrible test design permits such a result. I'll be the first to say that terribly-designed tests are not useful.


That's just it, though. The standardized tests are truly horrible examples of test design. They are multiple choice monstrosities. And as far as an example, I'll use myself. I was a C student, at best, but I consistently scored in the 95th+ percentile on the standardized tests. Even the "well designed" ones - I scored a 1280 on my SAT (90th percentile in the year I took it), and a 99th percentile on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - the military entrance exam, basically). Multiple choice tests don't measure anything but basic logic and reasoning skills, and pattern recognition. But then there's a problem with grading them, if you move away from the multiple choice format and on to a different one - e.g. short answer.

Dorvan wrote:Bullshit. There's a vague correlation there, to be sure. But just as everywhere else in life, likability and competence are to very different things. Adults often have enough trouble telling the too apart...students whose reasoning skill and sense of perspective are far from fully developed? They'll tell you who grades the easiest and who's most pleasant to talk to.


The teachers that can capture the attention of their students and keep it engaged are the ones that are the most effective at teaching the material and getting it to stick. Again, I'll use myself as an example and a current class I took in statistics. The instructor literally wrote everything out of his notes, word for word on the board. His tests were designed around his examples, that is, they were literally taken from his notes, only with easier numbers to work with. He kept his back to the class and wrote on the board from start to finish, and anyone that simply copied down everything he wrote should have done well in the class. Instead, most of the class underperformed - he couldn't capture or keep attention and interest, and it showed in the grades.

Dorvan wrote:Your perception of student assessments at the K-12 level is hugely naive and makes me wonder how much you've actually interacted with students in a classroom setting.


Perhaps it is naive, and as I said when I first posted in the thread, I don't remember much about high school. It's been a long time, and my memories are colored by nostalgia and the forgetfulness that comes with age. Anything before that, I couldn't tell you anything about save a few key points, like my test scores.
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Fridmarr » Fri Aug 13, 2010 10:00 am

Fivelives wrote:That's just it, though. The standardized tests are truly horrible examples of test design. They are multiple choice monstrosities. And as far as an example, I'll use myself. I was a C student, at best, but I consistently scored in the 95th+ percentile on the standardized tests. Even the "well designed" ones - I scored a 1280 on my SAT (90th percentile in the year I took it), and a 99th percentile on the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery - the military entrance exam, basically). Multiple choice tests don't measure anything but basic logic and reasoning skills, and pattern recognition. But then there's a problem with grading them, if you move away from the multiple choice format and on to a different one - e.g. short answer.
Yeah I don't know that that is all that uncommon. My SAT scores were way better than high school grades because I put no effort into high school, not because I didn't understand the material. The SAT at that time also took points away for having a wrong answer as opposed to giving no points for a blank answer. That was designed to offset pattern recognition a bit. The numbers were in your favor if you could eliminate 2 possible answers, but I'm pretty skeptical of someone being a good test taker, and completely not knowing the material, scoring very high on it. My guess is that your high school grades weren't as reflective of your knowledge as the SATs were.

As for the ASVAB, it was an extremely easy test that was not at a 12th grade level. If I remember right the percentile score was formula based and not population based. I don't think I knew of anyone scoring below an 80% on that, and I helped out a recruiter for a few weeks and saw a lot of scores. A lot of the career fields had ASVAB minimums that had to be met that are well above the general minimum, and many of the more technical fields had additional tests for like linguistics and electronic data process tests (EDPT).
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Re: A valedictorian speaks her mind

Postby Pala » Fri Aug 13, 2010 10:51 am

Fridmarr wrote:
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.


I lucked out with finding drafting and CAD in high school. I loved math too. I agree with what you say though. A lot of times we might only know the basics in school and then later find specialties. Everyone has to take the standard classes for the basic education. Some schools have the AP classes or you can sign up for college courses while in high school. That's a pretty great system but having paid for college I can see how it would be expensive for a school district. Even if I slacked off in high school I'm happy we have libraries and I can still go back to college if I wanted to. Heck, when I was a kid I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I found out you also had to put animals down I decided against the career. When we had the job fairs in elementary school I always visited the mortician class. Yeah, I didn't really have much of a plan set out so I'm glad that later on I've fine tuned my interests while still being receptive to new ideas.
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