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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Walking to DC March 29 and 30, 2010

The end of March in Connecticut means our CMT’s (state mastery tests) have ended. Most schools have been focus on these assessments for the past two months. For the months of February and March children in grades 3 to 8 lose Art, Music, social studies, and science. If you are poor and attend one of our regular urban elementary schools then art, music, social studies, and science most likely left long before February.
We keep hearing about the growing behavior issues with our children. Well this is what happens when you take away art, music, social studies, and science.
Who are these policy makers and politicians who can’t understand that what children read counts, art counts, and music counts. Do they really believe their test inspires learning?

March also bring parents to my office with their concerns and questions. Some I have known for years, and others are new.  Before the new ones say the first word I can read their thoughts. Our son or daughter needs help. He/she doesn’t do well with these tests.  I’ll ask is she/he passing their classes? Often the answer is yes, but these tests.  I always point outside our windows in the Literacy Center, and ask do you see all of these young people walking around our university? They say “yes.” I say this university never once requested any those state mandated test scores from any of these students.
This university does not care about those scores, Yale down the road does not care, and not one other university in our state requires those scores as part of their admission policy.
Then the real conversation begins, we always find a few real gifts their child possesses, and we build from there, and finally develop a plan of action. There are no miracles here. No promises, no lies, just hard work, and the realization that everyone can learn. Everyone can do better, and we work on doing better together.

The notion that more testing will improve reading scores is a pipe dream (a fantastic hope or plan that is generally regarded as being nearly impossible to achieve). Instruction feeds academic achievement not testing. Let me say it loud and let me say it clear, instruction feeds academic achievement not testing! We have spent the past 8 years testing our children in reading and math in elementary schools all over this nation. We have virtually moved art, music, social studies, and science out of the curriculum, and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data suggest we have little on nothing to show for it.  750 billion dollars spent on educational reforms that gave us little or nothing in return. Do we really need to continue down this road?

A curriculum without art, music, social studies, and science will not inspire learning in our children.  My whispered prayers today are for more art, more music more history, more geography, and more science in our schools. You know the stuff that inspires learning.  I am not opposed to standardize testing, but the notion that the only measure of a child’s academic success is a single standardized measure is wrong.  This type of assessment is not balanced.
I define Balanced Assessment as a "photo album of performance - over time". Such an album includes classroom-based daily performance of students, alternative assessments as well as authentic assessments.  There are formal, informal, and differentiated assessments. Norm reference tests are included with criteria reference assessments.  Individualized assessments, motivation and effort put forth by the student.  There are notational observations by teacher, a student's grade point average, along with teacher, student and parent reflections and goals.  Balanced Assessment portfolios provide a clear picture of the whole child - from multiple perspectives.
Assessment and evaluation as rooted exclusively in formal standardized testing is narrow, it is essential to include the voices of all stakeholders; students teachers, parents, pupil services, and multiple assessment instruments and various assessment approaches while conducting a balanced and thorough assessment. Assessment is a photo album of performance over time that includes so more than state and federal mandated tests.

I walked 3.5 miles yesterday, but today I was inspired by those Florida parents and teachers that started posting  on the facebook wall of the Florida Senate Majority  notes against SB 6 and HB 7189, (bills to tie tenure and pay increases to test scores). Reading their posts inspired a fast 6.5 miles, and burned 1010 calories as well. I loved reading this on the page at noon today:

“Florida Senate Majority Office  Due to a high volume of comments on our wall, we respectfully request that any individual who wants to share an opinion on legislation being considered by the Senate, use the discussion tab to post your remarks. We appreciate having a lively discussion of the issues and want everyone interested in participating to have an opportunity to share”

So they do notice, and we can act, and we can post. GO Florida teachers and parents! Tell them we don’t want their 30 pieces of silver. Let them know Florida children are more than test scores. The crazy guy walking to DC loves Florida.
Almost forgot to mention my music choices for my walk today. Lots and lots of Creedance Clearwater Revival You know 'have you ever seen rain," Born on the bayou," "Green River," "Spirit in the sky," and I end with Aretha Franklin's "Respect"... Let me say it was all good. 
I am walking to DC,


  1. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

    This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our tactics and teach math via real life projects.

    Alan Cook

  2. So very sorry Alan for spelling your name wrong.