Posts Tagged ‘public school budget crises’

Winter’s Tale

Wednesday, January 26th, 2011

My fourth grade students tromp into class each January morning wearing down jackets, scarves, baseball caps, nylon basketball shorts, and tennies, or better yet, flip-flops. The conglomeration of clothes is my fourth graders’ way of high-fashion dress, a nod to freezing winter temperatures and a nod to California sunshine.

California Bay Area elementary school

California Bay Area elementary school

On the other hand, my students are serious learners. On return to school after New Year’s, we began a science unit on classification of animals and plants. They learn fast, hold facts in their brains, and are quick to apply what they know.

On the study question that asked students to classify creatures in a photo as omnivores (plant and meat eaters) or herbivores (plant eaters) and give reasons, most students claimed bacteria were omnivores while the teacher’s manual said bacteria were herbivores. However, the students claimed they were correct because scientists have learned that many bacteria digest anything. How do they know? These children watched a lot of media coverage about the gulf oil spill, especially when the reports talked about petroleum-eating bacteria.

What does any highly qualified teacher do? I analyzed the data. It turns out those students were generally correct, but they had not read the question carefully.

The students certainly knew about omnivores and herbivores and didn’t need to have a review lesson on that scientific topic. If I had given points only by counting correct answers, I would never know that these smart students needed more instruction on the study skill of reading the question carefully before deciding on an answer.

The more I read about the poor scores of students in the United States on summative tests like the 2009 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the more I shake my head. Recent NAEP science test results reported that only 34% of a sampling of 308,000 fourth graders were proficient. The test was given to schools nation-wide in early 2009.

Statistical array results can bring up a lot of questions. Teachers aren’t teaching enough science because the focus is on reading/language arts and math? Science instruction is given short shrift because the teaching/learning day isn’t long enough? Public school budget crises divert attention from student academic achievement? Professional development isn’t emphasized unless the topic is reading and math?

Or all of the above? Education experts arguing about reform often use the results from NAEP tests to bolster any and all of the positions listed above.

Still, at my school for my class of students in 2011, the answer is none of the above. Above all, we do have the resources to analyze data. So here is the conundrum. Our school district does not volunteer to give the NAEP assessment. But how many of my kids would have proficient scores on that exam? I think almost all of them.

The scores, however, would not tell me which students needed more help with the study skill of reading the question carefully. To be proficient in high school and college, students need that skill, not only science facts.

What the NAEP results do tell me is that one time scores give a glimpse of science learning in the country’s schools, but what teachers need is collaborative time to analyze results and make instructional decisions that address student needs at a particular school.

And remember, they’re only in fourth grade. Minus jackets and mufflers, they’ve run outside to play soccer at recess in the California sun.