Whole days lost

Two entire days are about to be lost to the second session of PARCC testing. We sacrificed one today. Tomorrow will be the last and final PARCC day.

How you know you may be a teacher: You realize you have not yet printed out sheets to color, although you need to get to school fast since you are having trouble logging into the Pearson PARCC website. You say to yourself, “I’ll just copy pages from some of my own coloring books.” These are my personal books, not classroom tools, although I have a few of those too.

Danielson’s axe with details

Was that my summative evaluation? I may have crossed the last river on Friday. I’ll know within a week or two if the Assistant Superintendent for the district is going to Danielson me. I don’t think it matters much now if Charlotte’s Axe falls on my head. I doubt they’ll push me out the door before the end of the year. I do my job. I teach furiously and with some remnants of passion. I doubt they’ll push me out regardless. They have been critically short of Spanish-speaking teachers with bilingual/ESL endorsements for as long as I have been here.

Almost all the evaluations in my school have been done by the Principal and the Assistant Principal, but at least one other teacher and I drew the Assistant Superintendent. A colleague asked, “Are they trying to get you out?” Good question. The answer most likely is yes. I make a fair amount of money due to an absurd number of college credits and a number of years in the classroom. More importantly, I have tried to advocate for the maligned whole-group instruction. I have even conducted this whole-group instruction while coaches, admins and state mucky-mucks stood in my classrooms during the many unannounced visits of the year. I continue to contend that when nobody knows the material, then whole-group instruction remains appropriate. Thanks to the many lesson plans steered by outsiders, I frequently find myself teaching material that no student has seen before. I’m not cooperating well enough. I’m not listening well enough. I’ll even concede that sometimes I am receiving good suggestions which I am implementing, but not necessarily when admin enters my room. I’m done with politics.

I’ll admit I haven’t been nearly as polite and diplomatic as I should have been this year. Nor have I expressed myself nearly as eloquently as I might have done. I freeze up when I talk to my Principal and Assistant Principal. If any good can ever come of a conversation with either one of them, I surely don’t have any experience to support that possibility. They tell me where I am screwing up. My mind marshals its rebuttals. Then those responses silently die. I think, “What’s the point?” No one will listen. When I try to explain, they say, “No excuses!” When there are no excuses, there are no explanations, either.

Eduhonesty: Let’s get back to Charlotte Danielson, the well-meaning woman who created the axe. My district is laying off people and determining the order in which people will be called back based on scores from the Danielson rubric. That’s not what Danielson intended. But administrators are threatening teachers throughout my district by telling them that if their average score falls below 2.7 (I think that’s the number. I’m tuning out a fair amount of this craziness now.) they will not be renewed. One of our two administrators is considered to be a much tougher grader than the other one, so people with an unlucky draw in evaluators have been running scared.

(I want to observe that I am in no way against teacher evaluations. Like standardized tests, teacher evaluations fulfill a necessary purpose. The devil is in the details. A colleague recently told me gleefully that he had been lucky. In three years, he had never gotten evaluated by the Evaluator that Everyone Fears. That’s luck. A lot of people have not gotten lucky. My joke when I heard I had somehow drawn the Assistant Superintendent for the District was that at least I had not gotten the Evaluator that Everyone Fears. My colleagues laughed at that joke. It’s funny, but it’s not funny. Danielson’s rubric contains 4 domains, 22 components, and 76 elements. In one class period, no one can observe all of that and a regrettable number of evaluators will likely infer or even make up numbers to fill out the requirements. I’ve been in professional development meetings where we all tried to decide if a teaching video merited a 2, 3 or 4 on Danielson’s rubric. Mostly, people varied by one number, but one woman’s two can sometimes be another woman’s four. A tough evaluator who gives all 2s and 3s will end up with a very different final average than a less tough evaluator who gives mostly 3s and 4s. No evaluation should depend so heavily on luck of the evaluator but when that many numbers are in play, pure mathematics ensures that the effect of the tough evaluator will be magnified.)

Charlotte’s axe is not merely an instrument used to lop off the heads of teachers who don’t cooperate with current theory. While that axe is decapitating a fair number of educators across the country, one other Danielson effect needs to receive a great deal more attention. As I go through all the paperwork for my Professional Development for the year, days and days of development if you add up the meetings, I find that, with one single, bilingual-related exception, all but a few hours of my development have been about either Charlotte’s axe or new disciplinary measures. Since last year, my district has aggressively taught the many components of the Danielson Rubric, helping teachers learn how to succeed under this rubric. That helpfulness is appreciated, but the time… Oh, the time! We are spending meeting after meeting on the Danielson Rubric to the exclusion of almost everything else, with a little discipline thrown in on the side. And no wonder. I have a copy of The Framework for Teaching: Evaluation Instrument, the 2013 edition of Charlotte Danielson’s explanation of her rubric. The book is 109 pages long.

It’s as if Charlotte has sucked up our professional development time, replacing it with endless explanations of how her rubric works. Over and over, we learn the components of our new teacher evaluation system. What corporation would use almost all their available training time to teach employees the company’s evaluation system? At this point, I wish I had been tracking the specific minutes of those meetings so I could present hard data. I’m afraid my data’s soft, but all I can say is that meetings about anything other than Danielson come as a positive relief.

We are a school with many new teachers, a number of them first-year teachers. Ironically, in this time of differentiation, we seem to be doing almost nothing except teaching these new teachers the Danielson Rubric in whole-group meetings. Let me close by suggesting that my district might benefit from practicing what Danielson and school administrators advocate — doing small-group work based on individual needs. I’m sure our new teachers would benefit from separate sessions tailored to their classroom management needs. I’m also sure that some of us have grasped the details of Danielson’s rubric and are ready to move on.

Charlotte built an axe. I don’t intend to stick around much longer to observe its effects, but I think I’ll share one last no-doubt-unintended consequence. I have been advising colleagues to move out of academically disadvantaged areas into more prosperous, higher-scoring districts. When a large portion of anyone’s evaluation is based on individual student behavior and class test scores, the smart move is to go where the behavior is the best and the test scores are the highest. Period.

That’s probably what I would do now — if I did not plan to retire.


Time spent on meetings yesterday: The Wednesday minimum of two hours and ten minutes. Bilingual fortunately did not hold a meeting, so I only had grade and school meetings.

Time spent working on standardized-testing: Three hours and fifteen minutes, mostly preparing slips of paper to present to students showing them their AIMSWEB and MAP scores from fall to spring. I am supposed to do this on Monday. Fortunately, most of them show improvement. Some of them show significant improvement.

I find the scores interesting. Imagine what we might have done with a little less testing! Suppose we had spent 5% of the year on standardized testing instead of over 10%…

Time to let go

I keep looking at teaching opportunities that I find in my email. I don’t have to retire. I click on links and examine postings. I love to teach. Then I remind myself of the many demands on my time this year that have had nothing to do with teaching and everything to do with satisfying well-meaning bureaucrats and threatened administrators. I remind myself of the nonsensical tests I have been forced to administer.

I will retire.

Not excusing Baltimore

For clarity’s sake, I feel I need to add to the last post. Lack of education is no excuse for rioting. The attacks on people and property in Baltimore are inexcusable. That said, we need to find a plan to help our youth become employable. We also need to understand that that plan cannot be college for all. Not everyone wants to go to college. Not everyone can succeed in college.

Where are the realistic vocational and technical options?

Thoughts on Baltimore

Among friends, I call this the Blog of Gloom and Doom. When I retire, I will try to balance out the blog with some cheerier content, but for now I am documenting a year and sharing my thoughts from this time.

As I write this, the news is filled with flames, shots of Baltimore looted and burnt. Internet clips show angry teenagers and young adults rampaging amid the chaos, a destroyed police car, rows of cops standing shoulder to shoulder behind shields. Facebook posts provide conflicting stories; Baltimore friends are adding clips of neighbors caring for neighbors, cleaning up the debris after the riots. MSNBC used the term “urban unrest” instead of riots, but I think that attempt at sanitizing the situation downplays the reality of that wall of fire. Euphemisms won’t change what happened here.

Eduhonesty: I believe my blog is documenting a disaster that has been occurring in American education, as testing and pie-in-the-sky expectations dismantle what was once an educational system that the world envied. As I look at Baltimore, I am struck by the fact that America’s educational system — and America’s educators — are becoming steadily more stratified. Baltimore may be paying the price.

Education still works well where I live. The schools continue to be among the top schools in the country. Graduates of these schools move on to Harvard, Stanford and Cornell, fully ready to tackle the challenges ahead of them. State laws adding new teacher evaluation rubrics, new standardized tests, and SLOs may be a nuisance, but the money and technology exists in these schools to work around the opportunity costs incurred from the laws. Students often come from stable homes (you almost have to be stable to afford a house around here) and from homes where college is an expectation. Years ago, I read that this suburb was 88% white collar and I doubt that number has changed much.

Education has not worked well where I work and I believe the multitudinous tests, in particular, are making that situation worse. If improved instructional strategies result in better academic results, as I believe they will, those results may be offset and wiped out by the sheer number of days we are spending giving inappropriate tests. Some students will still benefit. I project that students at the top of the academic hierarchy in this very poor town will make noticeable gains in test scores due to increased academic demands. But the students at the bottom are getting killed. If the material presented is too far above a student’s level of understanding, and if that student cannot get tutoring or get enough tutoring, then that student may just be killing time between tests.

I am teaching two girls who provide a snapshot of what I am saying. Their MAP scores for math show zero progress this year. I never could get them to tutoring. Their dad is often away, mom does not drive, and they are not allowed to walk. In the end, they could hardly ever stay for the afternoon and they only managed to meet me for two Saturdays. They needed extra, tutoring time that did not exist for them. At this point, they are no further ahead than they were a year before. They are diligent students so I find this quite upsetting. The math this year has been years above their understanding and learning simply did not happen. Tutoring would have helped, but I understand mom’s concern; I would not let my little girls walk through these neighborhoods alone, either, and the girls live some distance from school. In case readers are wondering, I am not allowed to drive for liability reasons and we have no late busses.

To get back on track, the challenges in this district are many. In contrast, wealthier districts have tutors, late busses, tiered math tracks, functioning computer labs with available remedial programs (ours have been shut down week after week this year for testing), and parents who regularly drive to outside tutoring schools and classes.

The burden of this test-based craziness has been falling disproportionately on urban and poor schools. I suspect that attempts to help the poor may even have done more harm than good. (If not, show me the progress from the last decade!) Teaching to the test has not yet produced improved educational results, but it has sucked a great deal of time and fun out of classroom teaching and learning. What we have in Baltimore appears to be a great number of young people without jobs and without much to lose.

Who suffers when a district spends more than 10% – 15% of its time testing? When that district keeps giving test after test that groups of students do not understand? The students where I work are hurt far more than the students where I live. Where I live, dad will hire five tutors to get that ACT score up if necessary. Where I work, the end result of all that confusing, rapid instruction, punctuated with incomprehensible standardized tests, is more likely to be a drop-out than a new tutor.

Baltimore is burning and, underneath the flames, I see the specter of a failing educational system. Those kids and young adults ought to be at work, but too many can’t find work. Too many are unready for high school, college, or anything else.

Please don’t blame the teachers. We didn’t create this test mania. No Child Left Behind did. Creating new, harsher standards for teachers won’t fix the situation, either.

I’ve wandered a bit here. Let me try for a cogent summary. The test-based mess that is American education affects different groups disproportionately. Young African-Americans, especially boys, and people who live in urban and poor school districts, have suffered more than their counterparts in wealthier districts from the damage done to education in the last 15 years.

Those kids who need help the most are the kids most harmed by America’s testing. We test, test, test these struggling urban students, showing them their failed results year after year. Is it any wonder that some of them are out in the streets instead of at work? We proved to them that they occupied the bottom of the heap. Our many, many test results repeatedly documented this sad fact for them in gory detail. Why should we be surprised that they gave up? Why should be surprised that they are angry? To quote the perfect poem:

By Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

What would Vygotsky think?


Lev Vygotsky’s work has become the foundation of Social Development Theory, and a great deal of recent research and theory in cognitive development has emerged from his idea that children have a zone of proximal development, the area where they will next develop; what is in the zone of proximal development will become the next, actual development in learning at some time in the near future. If we want to teach children, then we must determine where their zone of proximal development is located in order to provide them with the next learning they need.

My MAP tests put my student group in the mathematical fourth grade on average, but my quiz came from a seventh grade textbook, chosen for its “rigor” by our Assistant Superintendent.



The problem with today’s math “quiz” can be seen in the above pictures. Is the quiz extraordinarily difficult? For the average seventh grader, definitely not. I might note that the “mean absolute deviation” or MAD requested in the above picture is not the old familiar mean average, but the mean of the deviations from the mean by the values in the data set. Those MAD problems are more long than hard. I regard this test as entirely doable. My kids need more time, though — time to get ready for this quiz and time to finish the quiz.

Students came in at lunch to try to finish. They stayed a few minutes after lunch. No one got through that test. I want to give them high praise for continuing to tackle the material even if demands for my help kept coming from all sides. Most of them did not toss up their hands. In the real world, though, future teachers probably will not be answering questions like, “How do you do this?” during a test. (Maybe I’m wrong. I never used to do anything like this, but the tests became so unfair at a certain point that I no longer saw a just alternative.) I did not do the problems for them, but I did provide instructions at various critical points.

A coworker plans to throw out some questions. We’re not supposed to do that, but I intend to throw out the end of the test and I intend to curve the cursed thing. Some creative, differential grading is about to come into play.

Try to imagine tackling this beast if you are operating at a third grade level or lower mathematically: If the average puts the kids in the fourth grade, some are lower than that average. Add on on a language barrier, not too badly taxed by this particular exam, and a number of my students were struggling but managing, while others were painfully lost. Those lost students need remedial math, far more remedial math than they can receive while I am frantically trying to teach them all the above material in around six days of class time — the total amount of time that was available for this unit.

All our shackled math classes must travel together, so now I must move on to probability, even if every teaching instinct tells me I have to reteach the material above. If I reteach, though, what chance do we have to be ready for the required probability test? Probability might be a win for us, too. Kids relate to card games and dice. This island of math is more likely to be in my students’ zone of proximate development than most of what we have seen this year.

We could use a win.

The bells were silent

We are PARCC testing again. The bells are off to prevent disruptions in testing classrooms. One grade tested today and will test tomorrow. My own students will test during the last two days of this week. They are saying, “Again??!!” They want the Illinois State Achievement Test back. I want the Illinois State Achievement Test back. Testing should not take two sessions, especially when those sessions take place less than two months apart.

Eduhonesty: I mean, honestly, how can a seven-week break make any sense at all? Especially since we have been testing them with MAP and AIMSWEB during that period, precluding the instruction that we might have given if not for those other two tests, this time gap serves no useful purpose that I can see — except perhaps to disguise the total length of the Federal government’s new PARCC test, as if we were selling America’s parents and students the $9.99 test instead of the $10.00 one.

Wish I could do this

I’ve done this before. Kids enjoy this end for a lesson. I learn what interests my students. They get to search out new math websites that appeal to them. I currently have two problems that keep this activity in the “hope to do someday” pile.


1) With the internet down, they could not go bopping around the web even if we somehow carved out the time.

2) We are lurching along the math road in a group, shackled to one another, and obliged to work on the same topics at the same time. My groups are bilingual students and we need extra time to work on vocabulary. We are going fast, much `too fast in my opinion. We are managing to hit the topics but, without more reinforcement time, I don’t expect a great deal of what we are doing to enter long-term memory except in wisps and traces. Specifically, my kids needed more than 5 days to master first and third interquartile ranges, box and whisker plots, mean absolute deviation, stem and leaf plots, and line plots. Fortunately, most students had done stem and leaf and line plots before, so those two topics were refreshers for many. The “quiz” was today.

Eduhonesty: A “quiz” that takes more than 80 minutes to do is not a quiz. It’s a test. Today, I handed my students a test that is multiple years above their overall learning levels. A few kids at the top managed credible efforts. The others did alright too, thanks to abundant clues provided by me and permission to use notes. No one came close to finishing the quiz and I gave them the whole block.

It was a stupid test and it stole my whole block period. When I have to guide the class question by question, we are not ready for the test. My students should have had at least another week, and in some cases two weeks, before they saw that test.

Look closely for the quizzes and tests

Before I erase the monthly chart for PARCC, I’d like to put a picture up that describes what I have been saying about absurd quantities of testing:

chart for april

Eduhonesty: I am required to give these tests and quizzes. All teachers within a subject area within a grade are required to do so. As the unions weaken, I’d guess almost no one will be willing to take a stand against this craziness. All the administration has to do to get a nontenured teacher out or put a tenured teacher in remediation is to give them low numbers on the Charlotte Danielson Rubric — and there are all sorts of slots in that rubric where disagreeing with official district policy can net you a low number.