Wednesday, May 21, 2008


More Ed in 08 for your youtubing pleasure.

This was fantastic.

Everyone in the room stiffened, sat a little straighter, and I'm in the back corner, hidden by that lovely column in the right-hand portion of the screen, giggling and giggling, cuz I heart The Ed Trust (in both East and West Coast incarnations), and I heart anyone who will take a hard-line stance to the whine-despair-whine-hand-to-the-forehead-whine of the tests are big and bad and scary (there was a fair amount of editing on the actual gross tonnage of all that).

For the record, I think:

1) If the kids are scared of the tests and the environment in testing sucks, adults failed. They failed to prepare kids, support kids, and create a positive enviornment that views these tests as opportunity, not punishment.

2) Wilkins is not wrong in her analysis. In a highly functioning system, folks should have to earn the right to teach in the South Bronx. We're 180 degrees away from that.


Blogger Jenny said...

That was fascinating to watch. I'm sorry that I didn't get to see the entire exchange.

6:17 AM  
Blogger coach said...

ugh, that was rough to sit through a second time. i put my take on the exchange over here

10:42 AM  
Blogger mister said...

I teach in a school in the flat part of Oakland that does the things you’re talking about. Our kids aren’t scared of the test. They are not scared of the environment around testing. They are fairly successful on the test. They are also not receiving an education equitable to kids in the hills of Oakland. They are not even receiving an education equal to those kids in the hills. The test is a huge factor in this inequity. There is no critical thinking on the test. There is nothing authentic on the test. There are just a large number of skills that need to be mastered. The most efficient way to deal with this is to drill the skills over and over. Larger concepts in math and reading are sacrificed. Science and Social Studies are gone. Critical literacy…ha. When these students leave my school with their proficient or advanced scores they are going to get hammered. We have not prepared them apply what they “know”. They’ve never had to do that before. It wasn’t on the test.

I agree with you adults have failed. I failed to find away to teach in a more meaningful way. However, I think there is a larger failing here. It’s a system that bases its accountability on the lowest common denominator. I work with an impressive group of people. Could we teach in a more powerful way? Yes, but real learning is messy, problem solving takes time. If we started to do more of these things, we might skip a skill. A kid might miss that question. Our score might go down. So we don’t focus on learning that is authentic and powerful.

Until success is defined as something more than knowing a limited and disconnected skill set, we will still be a long way from equitable education.

8:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is meant by 'authentic' in this context? It's always struck me as a fuzzy term ...
Also, I've never quite understood how people *can* problem-solve efficiently w/out basic skill sets (i.e., Can you write an analytical paragraph before you have the print-sound awareness that allows you to write words at all? Is it worth focusing lessons on solving multi-step word problems when every single step is going to. take. forever. because the students aren't remotely fluent in the relevant skills?). These issues aren't black and white -- I know you can think and discuss literature out loud, or problem solve slowly with manipulatives, and those activities have a place. But a push for mastery of basic acquisition and fluency skills doesn't compete with cricitical thinking, it enables it by allowing learners to attack higher-level problem solving efficiently, without getting bogged down in the tedium of working out basic facts. A daily or weekly two-minute fluency probe, performance graphing, and a few minutes minutes of daily practice time (e.g., with flashcards) can help kids build the fluency they need to solve higher level problems efficiently.

9:32 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...


I think anon nailed it for you. This may not be the case in every state, but I've always found both California's standards and tests rigorous and valid. I have a hard time envisioning the kid who tests a 4 or 5 who can't perform at high levels.

Yet gaps remain, no doubte. For the kids in the hills, the skills on the tests are a starting point. For your kids they are a challenging goal. I recognize the inherent frustrations and longitudinal problems here, but I think we need to remember that we don't change the situation by deemphasizing instruction on those skills, as anon said, that would allow the move into higher levels of instruction. We teach in more powerful and continuing ways, structure schools and districts in more effective and meaningful ways, such that those foundational skills are actually acquired quickly and cleanly, and the next steps can be taken.

When we reach the point where the only difference in educational opportunity between the Piedmont kid and the Fruitvale kid is that the Piedmont kid scores 4 but also gets an enriched curriculum, while the Fruitvale kid scores 4, but doesn't, then maybe we can start deemphasizing those tests. But we're not there yet, right? Not anywhere close I don't think, nevermind how kinda great it would be if we were.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous john thompson said...

I wasn't going to respond but I just saw Terry McAuliffe on the Daily Show, and as always I was struck by the way he and Amy Wilkens have such a comparable view of reality. When she and others on the Left sold out, those Ed Trusters didn't know what they didn't know. They were not close to having enough knowledge of education in order to know whether they bought swamp land.

If you want your students to feel good about standardized tests, maybe you should borrow a page from the police. When my students get stopped for Driving While Black, the last thing the cop says is "Have a nice day." That always reenforces the teenagerss beliefs that "community policing," like NCLB, has their best interests at heart.

How many teens have you met who haven't already concluded that NCLB testing, and the test prep that accomapines it, isn't just another way of calling them the "N word." This testing is another way to rub their nose in it - as if they haven't had enough. But maybe the kids would listen if you told them, "this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you."

6:01 PM  
Blogger TMAO said...

Hi John. You asked how many teens I've met who view the tests as a way to call them the "n-word?"

Uh... none?

These tests are a means for kids to show knowledge, a means for them to change the perception of their school, community, and even, ethnic/ cultural identity. That a test can do that is both gross and an opportunity -- the kind of fruit that hangs low. When tests time comes around, we talk about the different quintiles, we talk about what that means for kids, both functionally (you ain't getting Algebra I in 8th grade scoring FBB and that sets you back, son) and personally (that double-B means Below Basic, Below, Below -- you feel Below? You wanna live Below?). Test time comes and we break out the testing t-shirts and the #2 pencils that say "Step Up, Jaguar," the Rocky theme music and the big picture pep talks. Is all this a little gross? Sure. And it's equally gross to be 12 and know your scaled score was 349, which places you just below the Proficient cut-off but you're gonna get there this year. But it's more gross to deny kids full and equal access to the strategies of success.

Do some kids feel stress? I'm sure. Is it a horror show? No, and it's just damn disingenuous to blame an "accountability" system composed of a few hours of assessment if it were.

As for NCLB not having kids' best interests at heart, I've seen nothing but good things happen for kids as a result of pressure -- internal, external, site-based, peer-based -- to prepare kids more fully for those exams. Standards-based instruction, and toothy system to ensure its implementation, is nothing short of a weapon in the hands of the urban poor. A big, bright, shiny weapon, with many sharp, pointy edges.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous john thompson said...

Had you said that students arrive in your class being bitter about the stigma of standardization, and you persuade them to see things differently, I'd find that more believable.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not prejudging your teaching approach that grows out of your personality. Just don't try to bring the teach-to-the-test philosphy into my classroom.

I don't care what someone thinks about NCLB as long as they don't engage in gratuitous attacks on teachers, unions, and the public education values that I revere.

Testing is like chemotherapy. Used judiciously, especially as a catalyst, it can be helpful. We can disagree on the relative harm (or grossness) of test prep, but if you doubt that there is damage inherent in standardized testing, then you are too immodest to be writing a blanket prescription for the nation's schools.

The idea that accountability can drive reform is an interesting hypothesis. My complaint is with progressives who bought into the Lee Atwater/Karl Rove/Dick Morris/Mark Penn approach of "the ends justify the means." When Amy Wilkens bought into the means, they did not have nearly enough knowledge of education to understand the destruction they were releasing.

Karl Rove told New Yorker in 2003 that he would use NCLB as one of three issues to destroy the Democratic Party. NCLB would get the various Democratic constituencies - labor, teachers, liberals, people of color, - to fight each other.

Educational accountability has as much to do with education as Bill Clinton's execution of a mentally retarded inmate had to do with justice. Dems in the 90s had to show we weren't wimps who would back down from Saddam Hussein, unions, and Black people. The issue was sounding tough. The rule was always attack and never apologize.

But had Hillary apologized for her Iraq vote, I suspect she would be the Democratic nominee. If Amy Wilkins would just apologize for borrowing the No Excuses methodology of the Heritage Foundation, and the flawed "research" they published in the wake of NCLB, I'd be glad to welcome her into the big tent of educators who want our poor kids to be treated with respect while gaining a real education.

But changing the subject, I'm intrigued that you say that you haven't seen the downside of NCLB. Its like your statement that mimimizes the dread associated with testing. Like most of my colleagues I gave critical support to NCLB when it was passed. I don't think I know a person who still supports it though. We just graduated 43 seniors at my school, and we all celebrated and we rejoiced in the various ways that various teachers helped. But we had another 80 to 100 kids from that class who are on the street, in jail, or in the cemetary. I guestimate that a couple of dozen of my former students were pushed out by test prep policies due to NCLB.

7:32 AM  
Blogger TMAO said...

John! You're saying 25% of your drop-outs dropped-out because of the nature of test-prep at your site and that's somehow NOT the fault of adults? Come on, really?

Test prep in room D2 is 20 minutes a day for the two weeks prior to the tests. That's it. That's a choice made by adults -- me, the principal who supports me, the district officials who don't mandate something else -- that has proved both effective and non-invasive, not to mention not a cause of dropping-out.

My whole point here and elsewhere is that there is nothing in the nature of eight hours of tests at the end of the year that should cause the kind of distress homeboy spouted at the Ed in 08 thing, and the kind of distress you're writing about, UNLESS folks are creating harmful contexts around those eight hours of tests. And IF folks are creating those contexts, then I find blaming the test-kids mandate to be a supremely unsatisfying response.

10:15 PM  
Anonymous john thompson said...


Congratualtions on your being able to reach a nice balance. But stop giving aid and comfort to institutional/political forces that impose destructive policies on other students and teachers.

Of course it was adults who implemented NCLB. Guess what, it would be adults that implement NCLB II.

Again, I have no doubt that you wouldn't use shame and fear to motivate. So why do you endorse shame-driven national educational policies?

When you say that you didn't have to give in to the worst, so others atound this huge nation did not have to give in, you are bordering on narsicism. Don't just extrapolate from your limited experience.

Why continue to fight with teachers who disagree with you? This is the United States of America and it is the 21st century. We can do better.

7:42 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home