15 minutes?

I’m not sure that I can put in to words how much I enjoy the 30 minutes that I get for lunch each day. Besides $5 Pizza Friday, I rarely even eat – it has much more to do with the people I am there with and the fun that we have in the middle of our days. It’s a respite from everything else and it is extremely rare that a week goes by that I haven’t laughed until I’ve cried at least once or twice. But when the phone rings in that room, it’s an immediate downer. When the phone rings and it’s for you, it’s even worse. And when you’re told by your Principal that he needs you to come up to the office and he’s arranging coverage for your class? Well, it took me right back to 1988 and being called up to see Mr. Albaugh…

So that’s how things started for me yesterday – and that’s a long walk up to the office when you have no clue what’s going on! Once I got there, however, I learned that Governor Wolf had eliminated the requirement that students pass the Keystone Exams in Biology, Algebra, and Literature in order to graduate and that Ashlie Hardway from WTAE was here to get student and teacher reaction to this announcement.

And then a different type of nervousness set in – what the heck am I going to say? How in the world am I going to get my feelings on this topic — which are strong, and by no means concise — into an acceptable soundbite? Am I going to make an absolute fool out of myself? Ugh…

WTAE report

I watched as a student I had the fortune of working with last year, Nicole, totally crushed her interview. Surely she had more than a couple of minutes to prepare, I thought. I am so proud of not only the way she handled herself in this situation, but also the way she represented our school and all of our students in this process. She spoke of how much pressure she felt when taking these tests — of how much she worried beforehand and the sleep she lost. Keep in mind that this is one of our best — a “high flier” as our Principal properly called her — and this is the effect that these High Stakes Tests had on her.

I thought about the end of unit project that she created for The Book Thief and how she had transformed a book into a piece that explained in no uncertain terms what she took from her reading of Zusak’s novel. And I thought about the fact that no standardized test would ever let her display this type of learning.

fandelproject

After the spot aired I received a bunch of calls and texts and tweets, and several people were a little confused on what I had to say concerning accountability. Make no mistake about it, I believe in accountability — for both teachers AND students. I just don’t believe in High Stakes Tests being the way that this occurs. There are so many outside factors that come in to play with a test like this — to think that these truly measure a student’s learning is just flat out naive.

Want to see if I’m doing my job? Come in and take a hard look at what I’m doing — and come in over a period of time. I don’t care who you are or what position you hold — you’re always welcome — that door is open. Want to see if my students are doing their job, improving their skills and (hopefully) being challenged in the process? The offer above stands.

Come in to see our students write about Scout coming of age in To Kill a Mockingbird while relating it to their own struggles with the same; come in to see our students try to come to grips with the stark realities presented in Night that Elie Wiesel faced as a prisoner in a concentration camp during World War II; come in and watch a student perform her original take on the events portrayed in Zusak’s magical piece about children coming to terms with the perils of life in Germany during the Holocaust — and if you’d like a glimpse of what you’d see, here you go:

There are plenty of issues with our educational system — nothing is perfect — but this is a step in the right direction, in my opinion. After all,

standardizedtesting

True words?

 

(ps – I can’t speak highly enough concerning how Ashlie Hardway and her photographer handled these interviews. I truly wish that all of my Mass Media and Yearbook students could have seen the entire process — they were on point the whole way through. Beyond that, she and I have had several interactions on Twitter and it was great to finally meet face to face).

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.