Mandated testing…

(note: I just saw that I didn’t post this after I created it last year – ugh – gotta love it! – well, here it is – can’t say as my opinions have changed whatsoever!)

The simple fact of the matter is that, unless you’re a classroom teacher, a guidance counselor, an administrator, a custodian in the building or a teacher’s aide, you have no true concept of what state/federal mandated testing does to a high school. NONE. Please don’t even attempt to say that you do.

We are taking the Keystones in Algebra I, Literature and Biology over the next seven days. These have been mandated by the state of Pennsylvania in order to not only demonstrate what a student “knows,” but also how effective a teacher has been. Um, yeah.

Let’s take  a look at this realistically. Did you take your standardized tests seriously when you were in school? If you did, I’m going out on a limb and saying that you truly didn’t need them to demonstrate your knowledge. If you didn’t, I’m going to say you are very much like the vast majority of students everywhere who flat out don’t care about them. I find it to be interesting that the same people who profess the teachings of Dan Pink — you know, the guy who diffuses the carrot and stick method of motivation — do exactly what he says not to do by conducting these tests.

Now, please don’t get me wrong — I believe in accountability for all of those involved — but especially for the students and teachers. However, we are going about this in all the wrong ways, making sure that test taking companies and politicians get rich in the process. (Incidentally, depending on which source you believe, the industry is worth anywhere between $400 million and $1.7 billion a year — and I’m pretty sure that if you’re reading this, you aren’t naive enough to believe that those big bucks aren’t a driving force behind this being done.)

Starting next year, the way that I’m evaluated in Pennsylvania will change. If it had been up to Governor Corbett, I would be evaluated 100% based upon how the students in my school perform on the Keystones. Let that sink in for a minute. My job would depend not upon my performance in the classroom, but rather on how students in my school whom I DON’T EVEN TEACH OR WORK WITH IN ANY WAY perform on a standardized test that they don’t really care about anyway.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking. Maybe if you motivated them to take the test more seriously they would do better. Yeah, good luck with that.

You want to know what the students are truly worried about concerning this test? The fact that we, as proctors, are forced to take their cell phones away from them for the duration of the test. Seriously. I will have to literally ask for each student’s cell phone, have them turn it off then put it in a ziploc bag which then goes in a big rubbermaid container. If you have any clue whatsoever of what a phone means to a 15 year old right now, then you’ll understand the fiasco that ensues. And then we want them to demonstrate their understanding of Algebra, Literature and Biology? Yeah, good luck with that.

How I would spend an extra $100 million for my school district…

In case you missed my last post, in which I briefly touched upon Mark Zuckerberg’s generous gift of $100 million to the Newark, New Jersey school district, you might want to go back and check it out. In addition, here’s an article from Fast Company that gives some more info on it. This got me to thinking, though – well, that’s not really true – a friend of mine asked me what I would do if this type of money was donated to my district and I had the power to make the decisions.

Amie asked me a great question, and it’s really been on my mind for most of the day. Let’s get real, the chances of a $100 million donation are pretty much slim to none – and the only thing less likely to happen would be me being the one to choose what would be done with it!

One thing that I want to make perfectly clear is that this is not an attempt to criticize my district in the least, we are certainly feeling the effects of the money crunch, just like everybody else – but we’re talking about a dream scenario and $100 million!. That being said, these are the things I would look to improve with this type of money, keeping in mind that this is used to improve the physical much more so than the philosophical changes/improvements that are necessary:

  • I would make the necessary improvements to our buildings first – there are roof problems that have enabled leaking to happen, there are rooms that need to be painted, there are carpets that need to be pulled up and replaced.
  • I would renovate our gym at the high school – this is the part of our school that is seen by the general public more than any other and it needs some updating. It needs to be brighter and more inviting.
  • I would build an auxiliary gym at the high school that included a swimming pool and learning how to swim would be mandatory (way too much of our world is water…) In addition, this auxiliary gym would have an indoor track as well as a fully stocked and supervised cardio room – we need to place a greater emphasis on the need to stay physically active and this needs to be a lifelong goal.
  • My friend Amie actually touched on this in her response, but it’s actually something that almost happened last year: I would dedicate space to create a big time garden. Beyond the obvious lessons being taught in how to build and maintain this garden, the “products” will be incorporated into school lunches, which brings me to…
  • I’m bringing Jamie Oliver in on a consulting basis and we’re going to make sure that our students — all of our students, K-12 — are eating better. Our current company does what it can, but they’re still looking to make a profit – I’m not trying to crush them here – but there’s so much more that can be done. Because of this money in pocket, the district will take over all aspects of food service with the idea of creating healthy, balanced breakfast and lunch options for all students each and every day. Making a profit will be a secondary goal.
  • I would bring in the following to provide additional motivation on in-service days: Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Taylor Mali, Steve Snider and Paul Murphy.
  • I would build a skate/roller blade/biking park on the school’s property much like the Peach Plaza Skatepark at Twin Lakes. Ryan Parker and a staff would man this area.
  • I would install a rock climbing wall.
  • I would bring in RSAnimate to work with teachers in order to get even more creative with their lessons. Seriously, how incredibly awesome is this company and what they do?
  • I would bring back the concept of In School Suspension and staff it full time. I spent time in In School Suspension and also served an Outside Suspension. Trust me, there’s no doubt as to which serves as more of a deterrent, in my opinion.
  • I would get even more technology into the hands of ALL of our students. I think our district has worked very hard to do this and they should be commended for this. But I would take this even further — whether it be an iPad or a NetBook — our students need and deserve to be 1:1 with technology.
  • I would hire Dave Vuick to be our full time Technology Integration Coach at the High School and I would make sure that there is a Technology Integration Coach assigned to each of our other buildings. I would make sure that each Coach is provided the time to work with teachers in small groups or 1:1 so that they become more comfortable with incorporating technology into their lessons.
  • I would increase the amount of afterschool programs and make them mandatory for those students who are having any type of difficulty in school – whatever that difficulty may be. Again, this is something I think my district works hard to do, but I know it can always be better if you could do the things you want when money isn’t an issue. These programs wouldn’t simply be remediation; our students can never have too much exposure to the Arts – this will be another opportunity to bring in guest artists and speakers.
  • I would make afterschool programs available to parents/grandparents/retirees/anyone interested in our district. The taxpayers, if they want, should be able to take advantage of the things we have to offer also.
  • I’m bringing in Ray LaMontagne for a special concert and songwriting “conference.” (Okay, I’ll freely admit, that one’s specifically just for me!)
  • I would hire two people whose sole job is to search and obtain grants for the district. We do have somebody who’s writing grants, but it’s one of many, many responsibilities. These two people will have no other responsibilities and will be awarded bonuses for reaching certain levels of success (and before anybody tries to call me out on this, I have no issues with doing this same thing with teachers, as long as this isn’t based upon the idiotic standardized tests that are currently in place).
  • I would strengthen the security in each and every one of our buildings. I do believe that it’s pretty good already, however, I would go to a swipe card system for all employees and I would also hire greeters whose job it is to handle the checking in of visitors. In our current system, it’s very difficult for the secretaries to handle this duty, especially when they’re away from the entrance to begin with, and they’re expected to do this on top of everything else that they’re already inundated with. The swipe cards would grant access to each teacher individually – in other words, if I’m a technology teacher, then I would have access to my room and the computer labs. If I’m a coach, I would have access to the fitness center, the gym, etc. (And, for the record, this technology certainly exists – we were using it at my past school district over 10 years ago.)
  • I would make sure that there are ample counselors in each building who are available both before school and after school – some of our buildings don’t even have one.
  • I would expand our current system of professional development to include national conferences. A teacher who wants to continue the learning process is a tremendous model to our students. Having this money would allow these trips to valuable conferences to happen.

I’m sure that more will come to me and that I’ll be adding to this list. Please feel free to chime in with your ideas – it’s perfectly fine to dream, isn’t it??