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If you eat marshmallows on the morning of the test, everything will be okay

A friend of mine from New York just travelled to Glenpool, Oklahoma. While shopping at Walmart, she snapped a photo of this cereal box. I wish she had taken a photo of the entire display, which she later reported was full of “testing day cereal boxes.”

A short post today, just to raise awareness of the fact that General Mills seems to be in full support of standardized testing. The fact that a major company would capitalize off of the overly exhausting testing of small children makes me feel a bit sick. The icing on the cake is that this cereal has marshmallows in it! So, now the message to parents and children is: If you eat marshmallows on the morning of the test, everything will be okay.

If a cereal company is going to benefit from standardized testing, I just wish it was all organic. Are we scared yet?!

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A Call to Action: Submit your work to show that you are Pro-Learning

Calling All Teachers and Parents:  I recently came across a group of parents in NYC (Change the Stakes) who have chosen to Opt Out of standardized testing. I have been moved by the actions they have taken to ensure that their children get the best possible education. Although I am pretty sure we can all agree that creativity, high engagement, imagination and innovation are key factors in learning, not all of us are ready to Opt Out. There has to be something in between…a way for people to show their support without putting their children or their jobs at risk. That is why EdGeeks is creating the Pro-Learning project. 

If you don’t feel comfortable with the direction in which education is heading, then let’s do something about it together. I was a classroom teacher for years. I was busy. I was tired. I was frustrated, and perhaps scared of the consequences…but to bring learning back into classrooms, we must bring the voices from the field together to raise awareness about the issues surrounding high stakes testing. That means teachers, students, families and administrators should begin engaging in or leading conversations in their community. If you are not ready to Opt Out, read below to find out what you can do to show your support.

Not sure where to start? I really like this one pager from Change the Stakes. It gives a ton of information and provides a network for NYC families.

http://changethestakes.wordpress.com/

For students, teachers and parents who are concerned that standardized testing and test preparation has impeded authentic and creative learning in the classroom, here is something simple you can do to show your support! 
  • Give your students (or your child) a meaningful HW assignment: “Create a piece of writing or art which captures a moment when you felt that standardized testing or test preparation got in the way of your learning.” Submit all work to marisa@edgeeks.com to be published on EdGeeks. Please feel free to submit your own work too. We are collecting pieces from students, teachers and families. 
I knew I needed to do something last week when an 8-year old asked me, “Will you still love me if I get a 1?” (True story!)

When did you know? Complete this sentence by leaving a comment: I knew I needed to do something when…

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More teaching, less talking pineapples. Submit your work to show that you are Pro-Learning!


Created by Ari Joseph who attended NYC Public School and is Pro-Learning. Please download this image and share it to raise awareness about the issues surrounding standardized tests.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been following the latest news on standardized testing here in New York. It is a controversial issue to say the least, and it’s about much more than a sleeveless, talking pineapple. Sadly, I do not have a perfect solution to suggest as an alternative to standardized testing, but I think we can all agree that we want children to spend their time in an environment that promotes creativity, imagination and innovation. Plus, if Pineapples can talk, I think its high time we begin speaking up too! (Sorry, I had to…)

This is not a new issue. Teachers have been complaining for years that standardized testing has taken a toll on authentic and creative learning. This year there seems to be a growing group of parents and administrators who are making noise and raising awareness around the country. Suddenly this crucial matter is gaining more attention. I believe that it will be the voices of students, teachers and parents that will ultimately make a difference in education and bring learning back into our classrooms.

I am only a former teacher (whatever that means)…but in an effort to be more of a doer and less of a talker I have come up with two ways that I can pitch in and advocate for better learning environments for children. I hope you will help me. Here is the first part of my action plan…

 

Action Plan Part 1: 

I would like to create a section of EdGeeks where I can feature the thoughts of parents, students, teachers and administrators who are Pro-Learning. Pro-Learning means that you believe in imagination, encourage innovation and embrace mistakes. The goal is to provide a platform where the people who matter can speak out about how and why they feel that standardized testing has led our classrooms away from learning. Here is a list of suggested ideas for work to submit. Please email all entries to marisa@edgeeks.com and feel free to scan in any hand-written work. (If you wish to remain anonymous, please state that in your email.)

Suggestions for Student Submissions:
  • Write a piece about what you wish you could do in school instead of test prep
  • Write a piece about your favorite type of learning or a favorite project you have done
  • Write about an experience that you have had before, during or after testing
  • Interview a friend about how they feel about testing or test prep
  • Draw a illustration that represents your feelings about (testing, school, learning, etc.)
Suggestions for Adult Submissions:
  • Write about a time when you felt that testing was standing in the way of authentic learning for your child/your student/yourself (ie: testing, test prep, homework for testing)
  • Interview your child/student and submit a video clip of a moving response
  • Submit a photo of your child’s artistic demonstration: (ie: photo of a stack of test prep books, etc.)
  • Teachers/administrators can submit a story about a time when test preparation got in the way of learning
You can begin submitting your work via email (marisa@edgeeks.com) immediately. In fact, the sooner the better! If you wish to handwrite- or your children want to handwrite/draw an illustration, feel free to scan and email as an attachment. Once I have received the first 5 pieces, I will create the section on my site and make it public. Think of this as an e-book of voices from the field.
Here is my very first submission:

This was a HW assignment submitted by a concerned parent of an 8-year old third grader. The HW was to practice filling in bubbles. No instructions, no questions asked. Gotta make sure those bubbles get filled!

Stay tuned for Action Plan Part 2, coming up early next week…

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Opting Out of Testing

Earlier today, I received two emails from parents. One sent me and the other sent me “With Test Week Here, Parents Consider the Option of Opting Out.” The other send me a link to “10-year-old: ‘I want to know why after vacation I have to take test after test after test.'” I have been resisting the urge to write my opinions on standardized testing because I felt like there wasn’t a point. I have been working with students on test prep for some time now, and of course I have my opinions. After reading these two articles, and clicking on every link possible to find information on families making the choice to opt out, I feel moved and ready to speak out.

I am a native New Yorker and former NYC teacher (and yes, I attended NYC Public Schools as a child!) Over the years I have taught at a private preschool, a public elementary school, and a charter middle school. I left the classroom in September for a variety of reasons. I guess I felt tired of disagreeing so much of the time. It is imperative that you understand that I left the classroom planning to remain in the field of education and make as big of an impact as possible on children and families.

I have been so moved by the “opt-out movement” and I want to help in whatever way I can. Sadly, I don’t know that I would have had the nerve to support the cause if I were still in the classroom. Being on the outside looking in has provided me with a new perspective and I feel responsible to do something about it.

I understand the risks involved with opting out so I am not trying to convince any parents to do so. It is a family’s choice. That being said, I am in awe of the parents who are making this brave and terrifying decision and I want to know who they are so that I can support them in any way possible. No one should feel alone in this. I am looking into organizing a learning event such as a read-a-thon or write-a-thon on a testing day for those families who have made the choice to opt out. It is important to send the right message to our kids, that although they may not be in school, and although we may be anti-too-much-testing, we are PRO-learning. If you are opting out, or you know anyone else who is opting out in the NY area, please let me know. We will be make a much stronger impact together. Please email me at marisa@edgeeks.com.

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A Reminder a Day for ELA

For those of you who are in New York like me, today is the first day of the ELA test! Your children will be tested in reading comprehension and will have to demonstrate some serious stamina so make sure to give them a break tonight:) We all want to help our kids but sometimes in the heat of the moment, we offer too much! Overwhelming students on testing day is a bad move. Most humans cannot hold 25 reminders in their brain at one time. Here is what I propose. Know the testing schedule so that you can have specific and meaningful morning-time conversations with your children. Offer them one or 2 reminders, but no more than that. You want to show them that you care enough to know what they have ahead of them on that day, but that you trust them enough to get the job done. Supportive is they key word here.

Firstly, click here to see the testing schedule so you know which tests are on which days. If you are interested in learning more about what happens on each day, I’ve compiled the most important information so feel free to download it here: Guide to ELA and Math 2012. This information was compiled and condensed from the Guide to the 2012 Grades 3–8 Testing Program in English Language Arts and Mathematics.

Here are some suggestions for tips you may want to give to your kids in the morning. I am including more than 2 for each day but you SHOULD NOT use all of these with your child. Make sure to pick 1 or 2 that you feel your child should be focusing on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Write a Letter to Your Kids on Testing Day

Welcome back friends! I had a fantastic week in Northern California – travelling always inspires me. My cousin was absolutely stunning on her wedding day and I’m so glad we made it out there to celebrate with her:) That being said, i’m glad to be back and it’s a big week here in New York…

Tomorrow is the first of a string of 6 testing days in New York. Standardized testing has become an issue of controversy over the years. Regardless of your opinion (or mine) of standardized testing…I think we can agree on one thing: the level of anxiety that standardized testing brings forth is unpleasant. Kids, parents and teachers all feel anxiety before testing day. We can’t fix everything but here is one simple thing you can do to alleviate some stress for your child on the big day. Write your child a letter!

Why write a letter on testing day?

Kids and teens often experience high levels of anxiety on testing days. There is a lot of buzz around testing this year in particular. Perhaps it is due to the release of teacher scores in NYC, but either way…it is causing quite a hubbub. Many parents and teachers place a ton of importance on student test scores and this can be daunting for our kids. Writing a letter to let your child know that you are proud of him/her can have a huge impact on confidence. Right before the packet hits the table, a child can have a lot running through their mind. If they have just read a letter from a family member who is cheering them on, there is a greater chance that their thoughts will be positive going into the test and that can make a big difference.

What should I write in my letter?

Stay positive and keep it simple! This is not the time to give 101 reminders about things to do during the test. This is a time to say things like: “I love you,” “I’m proud of you,” and “I can’t wait to see you this afternoon.” You could also include one simple tip for test-taking that is specific to the test on that particular day. For example, if it is Day 1 of the ELA test, that means your child will be reading multiple passages so a strong tip might be: “If you get tired, take a 1 minute break and then go back to reading,” or “If you finish early, go back and double check your work.”

Sample Letters:

I know some family members who have written one letter for each testing day. You can do that if you want, or you can just write one. The big idea here is to let your kids know you love them and are proud of their growth as learners no matter what the outcome is on their testing day. We can all hope for the best, but we want our kids to go into the test knowing that they will be loved no matter what:) Good luck everyone!

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Kickboard for Teachers

A few weeks ago at SxSWedu, I made a new friend, Stew Stout. Stew works for an edtech startup based out of NOLA called Kickboard for Teachers. Kickboard is a lot of things but for the sake of brevity, I’ll call it a data management tool for teachers (made by teachers!) To be honest, I’ve always been a paper planbook and pencil kinda gal, but after Stew sent me a demo of Kickboard, I’m beginning to turn around.

Features I Love! The aspect I appreciate most about Kickboard is that it doesn’t look at data as a solely academic entity. So many people in education who are NOT teachers think that the term “data” refers only to standardized testing, when in fact teachers collect data on a wide span of areas including academic, social, behavioral, attendance, etc. Strong teachers collect a wealth of data each day. Kickboard is flexible and allows each teacher to collect and manage data on whatever he/she deems to be important. Here are some fun features of Kickboard:

  • Kickboard has collaborative features built into its behavior/discipline tool which can help a school community develop a strong sense of school culture.
  • Kickboard is heavy into teacher training and capacity building, meaning that you are never alone:)
  • Kickboard has a variety of options for rewards and consequence systems in the behavior section which makes it adaptable to different learning environments.
  • Kickboard allows you to see a snapshot of each student, which can be helpful when discussing student progress with parents

Here are some screen shots from my Kickboard demo:

This screen shows a student's overall performance on a group of skills, a student's performance on specific skills, and the selected group of students' performance on those skills for every assessment that has been recorded.

This screen shows how the assessment scores get entered. It's a very straightforward process. In this example the teacher is entering the scores for each of the two standards being covered. The scores are saved automatically.

This screen shows how all of the data is tied together. In one screen a teacher can see academic data, behavior data, family contact records, and consequences.

When you use a paper planbook, you have all of your data in one place and that is great! What isn’t great is that you cannot share your data with other teachers who could benefit. With Kickboard, a school can grow through collaboration and building consistency from class to class and grade to grade. Kickboard is spreading rapidly. Currently, there are two ways to sign up. For all you innovative teachers out there on the front lines, you can sign up solo for beta testing and bring an awesome new tool to your school. You can also sign up as a school.

I’ll leave you with this…at one point in our conversation about behavior, Stew said, “What is great about Kickboard is that you can see that a student is having a bad day before he/she walks into your classroom so you can plan really proactive interventions.” That is a true teacher speaking. The fact that Kickboard places great value on teacher input & feedback, and that it has so many teachers on board makes it a unique edtech startup. I for one, am planning on keeping my eye on this “for teachers, by teachers” data management system. Can’t wait to see what they do next…

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“In the passage, it says…”

(llustration: David McLiman)

This week, I received an email from a parent. The email contained a link to this article: “A Test You Need to Fail’: A Teacher’s Open Letter to Her 8th Grade Students.” Firstly, I want you to take a few minutes to read the letter.

Okay, now that I have your attention…

For the most part, I try to keep my opinions about test-prep and teacher politics out of my blog, but this letter really hit a soft spot.  I want to share about an experience that I have dealt with repeatedly over the past few months. So much of teaching has become test prep, and so much of test prep has become what I call, “In the passage, it says…”

I have been working with a lot of students who have been taught to write, “In the passage, it says…,” in every long response question. When I ask them if they can phrase it in a different way, their response is often, “but my teacher wants me to say it like that!” This worries me for a few reasons.

  1. It gives children the idea that evidence can only be presented in one way.
  2. It makes children sound like robots.
  3. It makes children fear what will happen if they stray from routine and try something new.

I have been in a variety of classrooms where test-prep needed to happen. It is so tempting to teach students to use lines like, “In the passage, it says…,” or “According to the article,” because many of us are told that it is a surefire way to get kids to add 2 details and raise their score. BUT, we need to remind ourselves that being able to regurgitate a line like, “In the passage it says,” does not make our kids strong readers and writers. In fact, it often persuades students that they don’t need to think, they just need to underline two parts of the text. This is what can end up happening…

Question taken from NYS ELA Book 3, 2010

How does the girl in “Butterfly House” feel at the end of the passage? Why does she feel that way? Use details from the passage to support your answer.

Possible Response

In the passage it says, “We carried out the box and raised the lid.” In the passage it also says, “I watched her falter as she felt the first warm touch of sun, saw trees, felt breezes brush across her wings.” 

Note: This response demonstrates that the student can find and copy two sentences from the text, but this response does not answer the question. Too many times, I see kids become so focused on underlining and copying their 2 quotes, that they forget to think about what the question is actually asking and offer a response that makes sense.

For those of you who say to me, “But we need to do test prep even though we don’t want to”…I hear you!

Here Are Some Things We Can Do

  1. I always like to tell students to imagine that I am standing in front of them asking the question verbally, and to think about how they would respond if this was a conversation. Most students would not respond by immediately referring to the text.
  2. We can remind students to underline the last few words before the question mark and to stop and think what the question is really asking before running to find a quote.
  3. We can teach and remind students that a response is strongest when it is an original idea that has been supported by quotes. We can also point out that using quotes is not an alternative to offering a thoughtful response, but rather a way to use text evidence to support a thoughtful response!
  4. We can model using a variety of ways to use different language to prove a point using text evidence. This can happen on a daily basis in non-test-prep activities for example: when responding to a read aloud, when discussing how to approach a word problem, when using a non-fiction science text, etc.

It is okay to teach students how to refer back to  a line from the text so they can offer strong evidence to prove a point. This is a skill they will need in the future. Using text evidence can make a reader’s opinion stronger!

It is NOT okay to teach students that every time they see a question that says, “use details from the text,” to start their sentence with, “In the passage, it says.”

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Guest Blogger Emma Savino: What Do These Scores Mean?!

Preface: I am so grateful that Emma Savino wrote this piece for EdGeeks. I cannot tell you how many times a parent has come to me saying, “I got these test scores in the mail, but I don’t know what it all means!” Even worse, most teachers are often confused by the jargon. How can we know how to help our children if we don’t understand their strengths and weaknesses?

What Do These Scores Mean?! A Brief Overview of Standardized Assessment Interpretation

by, Emma Savino, NYS Certified School Psychologist

Data collection is becoming more common in schools to monitor student progress and to guide instruction.  Many of the assessments given to students produce a variety of scores that can be confusing to those who do not know what they mean.  Not every test is the same, nor do they yield the same type of scores.

Most tests have a comparative point.  Therefore, student scores are either compared to students within their class/school, a nationally normed sample or sometimes both.  A nationally normed test (typically called a standardized test), compares student performance across a test group that is representative of the country’s population.   Therefore, a certain percentage of genders, races and ages are put through the same test, administered in the same format.  Ranges of scores are developed, where present levels of performance can be determined comparative to the norm.

The following is an overview of some possible scores you may see on assessments.

  1. Raw Scores: This is the total number of points earned on a particular test.  If there are 50 items on an assessment and 44 out of 50 are correct, the raw score is 44.
  2. Standard Scores: A standard scores is a converted raw score, representing performance relative to a testing sample. For the standardized assessments that I use, average scores are typically those from 85-115 or 90-110.  The standard bell curve is a useful tool that displays a visual representation of how scores are distributed.
  3. Percentiles: Percentiles represent student functioning as a percentage.  If a student’s performance falls at the 46th percentile, this indicates performance better than 46% of the students who took the same assessment.  Average percentiles are those generally between the 25th and 75th percentile, however, this can vary depending on the assessment.
  4. Grade Equivalents: Grade equivalents attempt to represent the grade level which a student is performing.  However, these scores are often misleading and misinterpreted.

For example, a 3rd grade student may take a test and receive a grade equivalent score of 5.1 (5th grade 1st month).  This does not mean they are working at a 5th grade level.  It simply means that the 3rd grade student tested performed as well as a 5th grader who would have taken the same test.  This 3rd grade student would not receive the same score if given a 5th grade level test.  If interpreted incorrectly, this can cause misplacement or poor intervention planning. Standard scores and percentiles are the best way to interpret scores.

5. Qualitative Descriptors: These descriptions are an easy way to understand standard scores. A specific range of scores is given a term to sum up performance.  Once again, this varies from test-to-test, but qualitative descriptors are typically presented in this order: Extremely Low, Borderline/Low, Below/Low Average, Average, High Average, Superior and Very Superior.

When reviewing test scores it is important to keep the following ideas in mind:

  • Testing can be negatively impacted by many factors.  Therefore, be sure to account for error.  These can include environmental factors (i.e. lighting, temperature, noise level, location) or motivational factors (i.e. inattentiveness, disinterest, fatigue, sickness).
  • Test scores give a general idea of where a student is performing and scores are not the end-all- be-all of their capabilities.  They provide insight to individual strengths and weakness which should help guide intervention and instruction.
  • Very often students are referred to me, evaluated and performance is found to fall slightly below or within the average range. Score patterns such as this show that a student possesses similar skills as same aged peers that took the same test.  Students who perform average on these assessments and struggle in the classroom may require changes to their environment (i.e. seating) or additional, Tier 2, AIS supports, but not necessarily special education.
  • Don’t expect perfection from students or for all students to perform within the average range.  Focus on growth and improvement.  I have worked with a wide range of students with varying abilities and some students innately struggle.  This does not mean they cannot learn, but may require more time and support than your average student.
  • Any decisions made regarding educational placement or programming should be done only if data is consistent across measures and should be evaluated by a team of professionals.

A special thanks to Emma Savino.

The more you know…

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Common What?

Today I want to change the subject a bit – I want to discuss the Common Core Standards (CCS). I must start by saying that in no way, shape or form, am I an expert on the Common Core Standards. I do as much reading as I can and slowly I am piecing together what this means for the actual teacher in the physical classroom. I will not give my opinions on the CCS today, besides to state the obvious, which is that change can be difficult, and this is definitely a change.

To better understand the CCS, I read as much as possible about them, mostly on websites. The texts are usually dense, jargon-filled and seem almost theoretical in writing. There are some resources that are working to make the information more applicable to the classroom – meaning that they are in essence trying to answer the question, “How does this change what happens in the classroom?”

What I’d like to do today is compile a list of resources that I have found helpful in beginning to understand the shift that is happening in the American classroom. If you have other resources that you have found useful, please leave comments sharing the links. This should not be a one-sided conversation.

1. On February, 15th at 2PM, Scholastic is holding a free webinar regarding the CCS called “Assessing the Common Core.” If you are at all like me, sometimes reading just doesn’t do it. A webinar can be a different medium for understanding information. This particular webinar is great because all participants will get a one hour certificate of professional development. Furthermore, Scholastic has an entire section of their site dedicated to the Common Core.

2. Many state education websites have common core resources right on their websites. If you live in New York, be sure to check out EngageNY. EngageNY offers information about CCS including a video library and curricular examples of CCS use. I recommend using video as a medium to learn about CCS – the conversational nature of this medium can support our understanding. If you do not live in NY, google your state’s education department, common core and you should be able to find information. If you find helpful resources, leave the links in a comment so EdGeeks readers can have access. (Send me a message if you can’t find what you need and I’ll do what I can.)

3.Common Core State Standards Initiative has been a very helpful resource for me. It really is comprehensive, including (but not limited to) the actual standards, news articles regarding CCS, and an FAQ section which answers a lot!

4. ASCD is another website that I have found useful. As you read through these sites, you begin to see commonalities which helps develop understanding. ASCD is also pretty comprehensive. The site is not only dedicated to CCS so you need to click on the appropriate section.

To be honest, this stuff is dense and it isn’t my favorite to read. That does not mean it isn’t important. Whether you are a teacher or a family member, you should understand the major changes our country is making in education. This change is affecting our classrooms, and therefore our children. We need to stay informed, have opinions, and give support to our students so that they may be best prepared for what comes their way.

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