Archive for the ‘cycle of inquiry’ Category

Character and High-Stakes Accountability

Friday, April 8th, 2016

Public union agency fees were OKed by the U. S. Supreme Court and Spring means another yearly round of achievement accountability testing, in California based on results from Smarter Balanced assessment.

But educators, in California and other states, are looking at another part of a successful school: using multiple measures to evaluate meaningful learning, including student engagement and school climate.

An opinion article recently in The New York Times “Don’t Grade Schools on Grit” by Angela Duckworth, 3/26/2016, suggests incorporating strategies for character growth that can support a student’s achievement.

When I was a student I rarely received more than an S in citizenship and conduct out of a possible O, S, U on my report cards. When I was teaching elementary classes, as part of the report card I mostly gave S because everyone had good days and bad days. I felt it was simply a section of the report card to complete; it didn’t teach me or my students a way to do better.

For two years when I was teaching, we used a program in which famous persons’ quotes led to discussion and other activities to help students find ways to make habits of good traits. Each showed one of twelve or so positive character traits, like courage, humility, perseverance, kindness, and tolerance. As part of “Success For All”, the reading/language school-wide program used at my San Jose, CA, school to improve reading, students at every grade level practiced being cooperative, helpful, attentive, and engaged in learning to read well.

The issue is that every teacher in the school must be relentless about following whatever model is agreed upon. Every student, every parent must accept the goal to succeed. Angela Duckworth’s article is based on a great deal of field study about a model that has been successful over time in a wide variety of schools, such as private Riverdale Country School in New York and KIPP charter schools. I would suggest school districts consider the model if they want to find useful accountability for school climate and student success.

The tool used to foster character growth is a questionnaire called the Character Growth Card which students complete at the end of a marking period. As I understand, all the traits are correlated, but form distinct clusters of character strength: grit, self-control, optimism help a student achieve; social intelligence and gratitude relate to helping others; curiosity, open-mindedness, and zest for learning enable independent thinking – a strong need for success with the CORE standards curriculum.

Of course, as Duckworth states, feedback from the questionnaire is not enough. For example, students often need strategies for what to do when they are weak in habits of self-control, often a conundrum in low-performing schools. I would suggest that a strong professional development component be implemented if your school wants a valuable character program to succeed, which aligns with California’s emphasis on continuous improvement.

Some teachers, for example, Brett Ashmun, Freshman Composition Instructor at CSU Stanislaus, teaches civility and citizenship through projects on which his students report. California English, Vol. 21-3, “For Greater Good: Teaching Civility and Citizenship Through Community-Based Curriculum”, Brett Ashrum.

While curriculum using the CORE standards is still being developed, opportunities for open-mindedness or curiosity or social intelligence may be found by working on projects with other grades in the school or completing a team math project.

Last, if such a project is started in any public school, from California to New York, my advice would be to not turn accountability into a score that rewards or punishes the school. As Angela Duckworth said,

“Does character matter, and can character be developed? Science and experience unequivocally say yes. Can the practice of giving feedback to students on character be improved? Absolutely. Can scientists and educators work together to cultivate students’ character? Without question.

Should we turn measures of character intended for research and self-discovery into high-stakes metrics for accountability? In my view, no.”



Trouble with Testing #2

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Since the last post about testing trouble, written 6-15-15, the House of Representatives has voted for a bill on July 19, 2015. HR 5 is called the Student Success Act,  the newest House revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) which has not been touched since 1965. All those interested in education issues heard from the Senate several months ago, but nothing has been forthcoming since then.  Even after reconciliation, the bill will be vetoed. That is assured. Can it then be resurrected by 2/3 vote? Unlikely.

PARCC elementary school

PARCC elementary school

Of course, resistant states’ tails are wagging in glee about HR 5. The four principles claimed by the House Education and Workforce Committee, sponsored by John Kline (R- MN) and Tom Rokita (R-IN), reduces the federal footprint, restores local state control, supports effective teachers, and empowers parents. The four principles are supported by two grants: Local Academic Flexible Grant and Teacher and School Leader Flexible Grant.

In spite of glowing words used to describe HR 5, is this bill for real? Critics determine that resources are taken away from struggling schools. Most federal Department of Education requirements, including Title I, are said to be coerced and therefore are included in a block grant which local recipients can divide as they choose. School choices, i.e., vouchers are proposed (using taxpayer funds?) and called local opportunity for students and parents. Local-driven teacher evaluation systems are asserted, though not spelled out. What does the NEA and AFT say?

What is said about providing a decent set of standards so that teachers in any state can be assured that students who move into their classroom will be informed? HR5 declares states make their own standards that address the needs of each state’s students. Are we going back to the same spot the country was at 7 years ago?

Lovely words are written about accountability and evaluation, but few words address assessment and analysis. The bill scoffs at federal Adequate Yearly Progress, but calls for similar accountability.

So now what? A month ago, this post worried about the wealth of assessment (testing) and the poverty of inquiry about results to promote more learning.

Teachers and parents complain vociferously about testing, but ‘summative,” or once-a-year, tests won’t disappear until something better is advocated. However, with inquiry to analyze results, let us call for the assessment named criterion-referenced testing, the model that tells the school how well students have learned the subjects taught at the grade level. Not so helpful are norm-referenced testing results which only tell you how a student does in comparison to all students taking the test. A well-known test of that sort is the old Iowa Standardized Test that was given in the 1960’s.

Important! Once the state or whatever group like Measured Progress scores and analyzes the results to break down the assessed outcomes into strengths and weaknesses, teachers and administrators can then make an action plan on what to do the following year.

A far better alternative exists! This post recommends substituting “formative” tests instead of once-a-year exams. Using a “cycle of inquiry” students are assessed after each 8 or 10 weeks of instruction. Then teachers analyze how students are doing in that frame of time and make action plans to determine how to revise their teaching during the current year, not the following year.

You may have heard of a “cycle of inquiry,” a business strategy for improvement, used by some schools. Teachers unions, administration associations, SBAC, and PARCC should demand professional development money to train schools in this strategy. Thus, the purpose of testing is changed.

Funds, supposedly, will be available in any ESEA transformation. All those business-oriented legislators will love inquiry. Low-performing schools and high-achievement schools will have successful students, the goal of the 21st century.

*SBAC-Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium

*PARCC- Partnership Assessment for Readiness for College and Career




School Opens

Saturday, August 17th, 2013

Another school year begins; this time without fear of budget cuts. New Common Core State Standards (CCSS) articles head the news. “Should we or shouldn’t we?” is in the media. Although 45 states have agreed to use the CCSS, it still is argued. I don’t care as long as the tests for those standards are improved and are only one tool to assess the proficiency of students, and definitely not the evaluative tool that overwhelms all others to decide how teachers perform. The question of testing should dominate the media coverage. Why is it not? Too complicated?

California elementary school

California elementary school

I’m concentrating on how to begin the new school year. I have three days to prepare my room so that new kids switch from a low number of classmates in a primary third grade. They enter a fourth grade class with a lot more students and upper grade behavior standards to learn. My goal is to prepare a room that feels comfortable and readies kids to deal with new responsibilities. Then the students will walk in for five days to learn the why and wherefore about literature, writing, math, science, social studies, art, and physical education.

If I have a complaint about how our union negotiates the year’s schedule, it is why students don’t attend for 3 days just to learn and practice the order and schedule. Then have a weekend to relax and come back on Monday ready for a week of curriculum.

I’ve read about state legislatures that have voted for laws of no tenure for teachers. I’ve seen teachers on TV quoted because their state has done nothing to prepare teachers for the new Common Core Standards. Without going into the details of these issues, I’m just glad that California has enough money, and I don’t expect an easy transition. I’ve read articles about capable teachers who have already employed new practices to introduce standards to students. I’ve read about the “cycle of inquiry” as a staff development tool. I’ve also heard complaints about unhelpful professional development already attended.

I may have my differences with the union and the state, but I know that my students do well on exams, and my school will persevere no matter what. It is not like the high school in Oakland (“Lifting up fallen high school” by Carolyn Jones, San Francisco Chronicle, August 12, 2013) that has become the center of media attention because it showcases every problem a collapsing school can face: change in community demographics, neighborhood crime, high dropout and low graduation numbers, infrastructure failure. It does have a tight community of alumni who venerate the school and, I hope, stand by its side.

I know that our school is supported by the community too. Fortunately, our buildings are still holding up, our residential neighborhood is stable, and our students are curious, capable learners.

Let’s see? We’ll start with magnetism. Fourth graders love that science unit. I’ll introduce the procedures for reading and writing. They’re always surprised that they can choose their own book to read and join a literature group. My fourth graders love to be given their writing notebook. I make it special because they can keep track of their reading and write their drafts without criticism about spelling or grammar.

A good start.


Mind Your Common Core Standards

Wednesday, July 31st, 2013

Defenders say Common Core Standards answer the common problem of differing education standards among states. How many students have matriculated to your California school from another state and have no idea about fractions, let’s say, when your class is in the middle of the unit? It doesn’t have to be another state, it could be another California county!

To overcome that reality, for a while California students had to be enrolled in a school district for a specified number of days or their yearly state test was not counted in the final record for the school and district. That happened when Adequate Yearly Progress federal scores were the important measure. After a while, teachers, schools, and districts, in California anyway, stopped fretting about the federal scores and concentrated on curriculum that would improve student success measured by the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) system. You know California’s ambition to take the lead in accountability even when it had no money.

Now that money is available to school budgets, the California Department of Education and the California Teachers Association have begun professional development for the implementation of California’s version of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2014-2015.

When collaboration occurs, many teachers look forward to professional development before the transition to CCSS use. Those who promote the transition focus on the goals of fewer topics and greater depth. The CCSS website stresses that teaching methods are not dictated. Who wouldn’t be attracted to teaching more about one topic, and not worry about all those pages not covered in the textbook? What teacher does not welcome with a good heart the “cycle of inquiry,” leading to strategies that are best practices?

Faultfinderss are now coming forward to name the flaws for the 45 states who agreed to upgrade the curriculum and standards that allow a huge country of more than 50 million children have a chance at better college and career, whether vocational or professional. Critics claim parents have not had the opportunity to understand the education changes. There has not been enough public discussion country-wide. New demanding tests by some states before adequate implementation means student success doesn’t pan out. The House of Representatives bill to finally revise the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” (ESEA) leaves standards to the states, thereby wiping out the work of the National Governors Association attempt to improve learning.

Change takes time and perseverance. Teachers have long been criticized as unwilling to try change and rely on their unions to back them up. However, both national teachers’ unions are strong supporters of Common Core State Standards.

So mind your p’s and q’s. Keep a stiff upper lip! Watch the world through rose-colored glasses.

For more detail, see “Who’s Minding the Schools?” by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreyfus, New York Times, June 9, 2013. See articles on CCSS in California Educator, March 2013 and June/July 2013.

Coming Nigh: More Change

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

Consider the April 2013 San Francisco Chronicle article about real estate agents being asked to show homes in the ‘right’ peninsula areas. Peruse the April New York Times article about Utah schools offering dual-language classes. The education-oriented reader bites her lip to keep from smirking.

The ‘right’ area to California teachers means one near a school with high scores for the California Academic Performance Index because the home can be sold later for more money than homes by schools with low scores. Utah wants all those public school kids to make money when they grow up by speaking another language so they can be Mormon missionaries to foreign countries first and then high earners in the global market forever after. Bilingual education finally gets its due.

But make no mistake! The major school district business across the nation, high-scoring or bilingual, is to establish new teacher and administrator evaluation models. Just google ‘school evaluation’ and an abundance of ‘for and against’ articles come forward. Keep in mind: the conflict heats up when a plan is devised, and the percent of student test success is built-in. Must the teacher’s evaluation show that 30% or 10% or 50% of her students have reached proficiency for the year? Who cares except those who want a number, the higher the better? Is that proof of a good teacher?

The controversy gets more complex because, at the same time, 45 of the fifty states in the union are preparing to establish Common Core State Standards (CCS). In California the curriculum content goal is to transition by 2014-2015. You can figure that teachers are not uneasy about real estate values near their school, but may agonize over changes to dual-language policies and procedures in order to account for CCS. Or be troubled by imminent changes to the assessment tools used for evaluation.

The top need, however, is long-term professional development for teachers before changes are made. Roll your eyes if one-day workshops are all the school gets for the implementation being asked. Raise your eyebrows when no coaches model what is being suggested for the classroom. Pinch your thumb against your finger if funds are skimpy for the tools you will need. Shake your head if piles of papers are handed out, but no time is given for collaboration.

How about professional development at your school that uses “inquiry teams” which meet often during the year to learn, practice, question, and promote change?