Children Will Learn What We Teach Them

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.”

-Albert Einstein

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

-Maya Angelou

I know, without a doubt, that years after being in my class that my students don’t remember the themes of the novels I so diligently taught. They don’t remember the exact words of the comments I wrote obsessively in purple pen all over their essays. But I know they remember feeling like my class was more than just reading and writing some words.

Standards.

Objectives.

Assessments

Data.

Evaluations.

Education in this country has become obsessed with trying to quantify learning. But learning is not an a+b=c kind of endeavor. The answer is not a formula to be derived.

The PARCC test has been heralded as being able to determine if a child is on the track to career and college readiness in as early as the third grade. This test, though abandoned by many states, is driving education in the state of NJ and a few other states late to the discovery that it is actually a poorly designed assessment.

Elementary curriculum continues to be narrowed (since NCLB) to focus solely on reading and math. Math is being narrowed to focus on one methodology of teaching (whether it is right or wrong is not the point). Reading is being narrowed by a focus on informational texts (despite cuts to time spent on history and science) and by an obsession with technology (to simulate the test, students are assigned keyboarding practice and shown video clips daily in lieu of being read to by their teachers).

These shifts may seem minor to the untrained eye, or even a sign of the times where the digital age now rules. But, this cannot be further from the truth.

If all we teach our children in school is to do math a specific way, read certain types of texts and answer certain types of questions, and a handful of technology “skills” like drag and drop, scroll and how to type quickly, then that is what our children will learn. If we drill these things hard enough and long enough, then test them on it….they will pass with flying colors. The problem is that we will be patting ourselves on the back with the same hand that has robbed a generation of a true education.

Training is not education.

Education is imitation borne of admiration.

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Education is exploration.

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Kids doing archaeology in the backyard to find buried objects.

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Kids exploring the Metropolitan Museum of Art after learning about Ancient Egypt.

Education is experience and explanation.

Kids learning about irrigation from a friend who is a farmer.

Kids learning about irrigation from a friend who is a farmer.

Learning about evolution from his Daddy.

Learning about evolution from his Daddy, who is a physician.

Education is hands-on and often messy.

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Education is best shared with a smile.

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When we teach children, we are teaching much more than how to read or write or compute.

We are teaching them how to think, to live, and to love…

Or else we are teaching them not to.

PARCC Learning

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning.”

I like the sound of that.

I mean who can argue with a “core belief”?

And what neanderthal wouldn’t want to enhance teaching and learning?

Just like the Common Core ads on television (see my post Common Core Ads:Who Pays?), the language used on the PARCC website is compelling. It sounds like the answer to every teacher and parent’s prayers.

Because the assessments are aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS), they ensure that every child is on a path to college and career readiness by measuring what students should know at each grade level.

This sounds good too.

Wow! A set of standards that can actually ensure that every child is on the right path. Man, if the standards can do that, what do we need teachers for? Just hand the kids the standards, then give them the test. Presto! Career and college ready!

Educators are not stupid enough to believe this hyperbole, so then for whom is the PARCC website made for? I can’t quite figure it out. In the top right corner of the homepage, it says in bold “Stay Informed!” and provides a place for you to enter your email address. But perhaps the people who update their website should enter their own email, since the FAQ sheet contains information that conflicts with their homepage.

On the homepage, they list the names of the states who make up the PARCC. There are 13 states listed and Pennsylvania as a “participating state”. That makes 14 total.

The FAQ states, “… (PARCC) is a group of 19 states working together to develop a common set of computer-based K–12 assessments in English language arts/Literacy and math linked to the new,more rigorous Common Core State Standards (CCSS).”

Where did those other 5 states go?

If the PARCC website can’t even keep track of how many states are part of their own organization, how can they be trusted to grade rigorous math problems that require critical thinking skills?

It may seem like just a silly, minor mistake, but when you entrust a company like Pearson (who has historically made A LOT of mistakes Pearson Testing Problems)…little problems quickly become big ones.

These PARCC tests have been replacing midterms and final exams in some districts like Glen Ridge. These tests take a lot of time (a combined testing time of 9 hours and 45 minutes in 3rd grade and the time increases from there). The computerization of testing has cost districts a lot of money, which was spent often under the assumption that districts would receive reimbursement through Race To The Top (RTTT) funds. Well if RTTT is defunded, then what?

But most importantly the PARCC has impacted education, as I have written about before PARCC Data Drives Instruction. Even if the anti-testing movement succeeds, some of what was lost cannot be immediately regained.

Revolving door education reform has left many teachers exhausted, cynical and burned out. My mother retired from teaching kindergarten years ago, when they took her doll corner away. (As if the importance of play and all of the research supporting it suddenly didn’t matter.) How many dedicated teachers were driven into retirement or out of the profession because of the increasing focus on testing? How many students have already been turned off to learning?

The PARCC doesn’t want to stop at twice a year assessments. They have developed a whole battery of testing resources for teachers to implement all year long. That is if states agree to purchase and implement them. They rushed to buy Chromebooks, typing software, and increased connectivity…so why wouldn’t they?

According to their website there is an entire “PARCC Assessment System”.  That includes:

  • Diagnostic assessments in reading, writing and mathematics.
  • Mid-year assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics
  • Performance-based assessments (PBA) in ELA/literacy and mathematics.
  • End-of-year assessments (EOY) in ELA/literacy and math.
  • Speaking and listening component (ELA/literacy only).

Each is described in great detail. Why? because these, my friends are all big moneymakers. Why just cash in on the tests? Why not make a backdoor deal with tech companies? (Sorry that’s not proven yet, but the investigation is underway LA School iPad Scandal.) Why not develop and sell a whole assessment system that makes money all year long?

I have read extensively about the dangers of high stakes testing and about the PARCC, but nowhere have I seen anyone mention this assessment system. The doubling of the testing time from one week to two weeks already had my teacher head spinning. But if states start adopting other components of this assessment system, I am not sure when students will actually learn anything, They will be assessed too often to learn anything with any depth and certainly with any creativity.

PARCC is based on the core belief that assessment should work as a tool for enhancing teaching and learning.”

It appears to me as if they used the wrong word.

The PARCC doesn’t aim to enhance teaching and learning.

It aims to replace it.

And boy will that make some corporate big wigs a whole lot of money!

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All quotes come from the official PARCC website:

http://www.parcconline.org/about-parcc

PARCC Data Only Drives Instruction Into the Ground

I am not a big believer in the catch phrase “data-driven” instruction.

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A bulletin board from my 7th grade Reading and Language Arts Class that tracked books read on hand cutouts. The bottom papers are signed parent pledges to help their children meet reading goals.

 

 

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These posters were made by my students to sell impossible products such as a foul-smelling deodorant.

First of all, instruction cannot be driven by a test given in March and May, because by the time the results come in, the school year is over. So instead the school year is driven by test prep. In my previous school, this meant that 5th graders were taking practice PARCC tests on the computer every Friday. This was not to gauge their progress towards mastery of the standards so much as it was to get them familiar with the technology and format of the test.

Taking so much time to practice disrupts instruction, yet the acquisition of these computer skills is being sold as critical for college and career readiness. But I bet you that any employer would be willing to pay for a typing class for a potential employee who was a well-spoken, intellectually sound writer.

Secondly, the data, which the PARCC provides, only covers a subset of the knowledge and skills required by the Common Core Standards. (One test cannot test every single aspect of every standard. For instance, there are speaking standards that are not tested.)  By their very nature, a cumulative test has to be less than thorough. So when a teacher sees the test data in September for his or her new students, even the breakdown of strengths and weaknesses will not be enough to “drive instruction.” That teacher will still have to their own assessments. This is particularly true in Reading and Language Arts where there are so many subskills behind the reading and writing done on the test. The PARCC does not even give a reading level that would help guide a teacher to suggest appropriate independent reading books.

Thirdly, every teacher takes a course on assessments. While earning my M.A.T. at Johns Hopkins, we discussed, administered, and analyzed data from various types of standardized tests and teacher-made assessments. We learned about formative and summative assessments. The PARCC is a summative assessment that claims to be able to do what a formative assessment does, but it cannot.

The goal of formative assessment is to monitor student learning to provide ongoing feedback that can be used by instructors to improve their teaching and by students to improve their learning. More specifically, formative assessments:

  • help students identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work
  • help faculty recognize where students are struggling and address problems immediately

Formative assessments are generally low stakes, which means that they have low or no point value. Examples of formative assessments include asking students to:

  • draw a concept map in class to represent their understanding of a topic
  • submit one or two sentences identifying the main point of a lecture
  • turn in a research proposal for early feedback

http://www.cmu.edu/teaching/assessment/basics/formative-summative.html

The PARCC is not filling some void in education. It is replacing sound educational philosophy and practice. The students who the school districts deem in need of better scores, will be subjected to more PARCC-like practice (presumably from PARCC prep books that Pearson is gearing up to crank out and profit from or test prep programs like Study Island). But in reality those students are not getting any closer to better reading comprehension or writing skills. They are just going to be even more turned off by learning and school.

Finally, I don’t know about you, but I do not want data to drive the instruction of my children. I would much prefer sound education research and known best practices to drive instruction. Or better yet, well-trained happy professionals who feel fulfilled by their job and have enough energy and freedom to infuse their lessons with creativity. I want instruction driven by innovation. Or by the interests of the students. Or by current events. Or by the students themselves, as they are given tasks that make them think, create, and perform in ways that make them prepared for the challenges they will face not only in college or careers, but in life.

The phrase “data-driven instruction” is thrown around as if teachers have been wandering around aimlessly with no clue how to plan lessons. But the fact is that teachers are masters of assessment, all kinds of assessment. We devise our grading policies and in the end calculate the grades. We can often assess a student’s level of understanding by the expression on their face or their body language.

Now with the new software available, parents can see the individual assignment and test grades of their children as they are entered by the teacher. They get a running average throughout the marking period from the comfort of their own home.

We do not need any more data.

We know the United States is behind. We know there is an inexcusable divide in the quality of education that children get based on their race or socioeconomic status.

We have the data.

What we need are leaders that are not bound by the purse strings of lobbyists. We need local leaders to step up and take education back from the greedy hands of corporations and politicians and take it upon ourselves to ensure our children get the quality education they deserve. That means parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and board members.

Let’s stop letting others do the thinking for us. Because they are getting it wrong. Gravely wrong.

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