Digital Device Choices


I will suggest readers check out “Digital Device Choices Could Impact Common-Core Test Results, Studies Finding,” by Benjamin Herold, Education Week, July 19, 2016.  The article starts by noting that, “Some test questions are likely harder to answer on tablets than on laptop and desktop computers, presenting states and districts with a new challenge as they move to widespread online assessments.”

“”Device effects” are a real threat to test-score comparability, the report concludes, one of many potential challenges that state and district testing directors must wrestle with as they move away from paper-and-pencil exams,” the article later continues.

Eduhonesty: To tie this to my earlier post about financial differences between districts and the impact on technology, I will note tablets are cheaper than laptops. Tablets are also less versatile. While many financially comfortable districts may opt to use tablets with their students, I suspect you will find greater tablet use overall in less advantaged districts, simply because tablets are more affordable.

Putting the links together in my chain, I suggest these device effects will be more problematic and cause more difficulty for less financially fortunate districts, contributing to the chasm that already exists between ZIP Codes in this country. Why? Laptops can provide more advanced performance in comparison to tablets because their larger size generally allows more hardware and consequently software.*

Many factors are in play in the tablet versus desktop versus laptop situation. Total computing power of the district will prove hugely important, as will familiarity with hardware provided. I could list various other factors that might muddy test results considerably, such as numbers of test practice sessions and keyboarding/touchscreen skills.

I wish to reiterate here, though, that those students who are raised in technologically-deficient districts enter testing with an added disadvantage which has nothing to do with their actual knowledge of curriculum content.
*

Why $$$ Matters Today in a Way $$$ Never Mattered Before


This is a line outside an Apple Store at a Midwestern mall. The store is set to open in about 15 minutes. The techno-literate with money will be able to enter our modern Mecca shortly.

When the country shifted to computerized testing, the children in my suburb suddenly gained a tremendous advantage over the children in the suburb where I had been working. In our more financially comfortable school districts, children start school with iPads and technology. They learn keyboarding in early or mid-elementary school.

Some financially-challenged districts cannot offer the same technological head start. For one thing, these districts may be playing desperate catch up in an attempt to add new Common Core materials, with software falling low on the list of purchase needs because of hardware limitations.

Where I last taught, the school shut down non-testing use of the internet during most of the weeks of the first PARCC test because administrators were afraid students testing would be thrown off the internet and lose their test answers due to lack of available bandwidth. I know a teacher at a charter school that spent months testing because they had to go classroom by classroom due to lack of facilities.

The larger issue is simply familiarity with technology. In 1960,  1970, 1980, and even 1990, technology hardly entered into our educational picture.  Better schools might end up with less fuzzy mimeographs and more free markers for teachers. Students mostly worked from books, though. The differences between math books mattered very little. Wealthier districts might have newer, prettier books, but the content was the same.

Inequities still existed, of course. Sometimes a district did not have enough books to send those books home at night, for example. Teachers in that situation often ended up making copies. If a paper shortage arose, those teachers would have students handwrite out their problems before they left for the day.

But the playing field remained much closer to level. Now, technology has changed the game. It took me a while to find the words to articulate my concern, but I finally put this together: What we are seeing is a shift from a change in degree between our wealthier and less financially fortunate schools to a change in kind.

Those schools that cannot offer free and easy access to the technology of our time are necessarily substandard — and entirely inadequate. Their students cannot receive an equivalent education. As part of our move towards Common Core and computerized testing, many districts are adding technology, but the technology is being added in response to the need to test.

What government and administrative leaders need to understand is that technology in education is not a means to an end. That technology should be seen as an end in itself. All of our kids need to be able to easily manipulate the technological tools of our time.

A few posts back I talked about differences in the financially comfortable district in which I live and the impoverished district in which I worked. Let me add another difference as food for thought.  Where I live, the high schools offer an AP Computer Science program with an emphasis on programming, coding and algorithmic structures. Where I worked, the school offers no regular computer classes at all, although the school did pair with a local corporation for an industry-related IT project opportunity.

Our financially-challenged districts are trying, but computer education teachers and new technology often cost more money than they can find.

Going Off the Grid

IMG_0762In the next day or two, I will head into the mountains to a small town with no schools. The town had an elementary school once, but about a decade back, they ran low on kids; the remaining kids get bussed about  20 miles to school, a slow, snowy ride for much of the winter.  On the plus side, the kids have a swimming hole and the store with ice cream bars, candy, beer and bait reopened a couple of months ago.

I won’t have an internet connection and the cell phone will be trapped in a signal-free valley. Electric lights and tavern pizza are about as good as it gets up by the lake, sometimes with a trout or two thrown in. So blog posts will be erratic, although I should emerge from the valley every so often. The phone blogs reasonably well when I can find the bars on the other side of the hills.

Come August, I’ll begin the tips for new teachers that readers liked last year.

Where the Tests Don’t Hurt

suburb house
Following up on yesterday’s post: On the front page of a tiny, local newspaper, the column on the left is titled “D-34 Gives Raises, Shrinks School Year.” School District 34 can be found in Glenview in the Illinois North suburbs. Glenview is one of a number of adjacent, middle-class communities where ice cream, soccer, Little League teams, swimming pools and parks abound. D-34 is another district that’s rocking the test score game,

One of its middle schools lists only 16% low income students, with 4% English learners.* A full 56% of the students at that school passed the PARCC test. That’s impressive. The other middle school lists 30% low income students and 5% English learners. That school reached a passing rate of 49%, considerably better than the state as a whole.

I could start tearing the numbers in the state report apart. If I did, I’d note, for example, that overall the district has 15% English learners — suggesting that the district is doing a solid job of preparing students to exit bilingual programs and/or the district is seeing an influx of English learners in the earlier grades. The truth will likely be a combination of exits and entrances.

But I can be too much of a numbers geek. Let’s just look at the thought that struck me immediately when I saw the article. Glenview 34 is a “safe” district. Overall, only 33% of Illinois students passed the PARCC test for 2014 – 2015, a number that hides wide swings between districts. In Waukegan 60, a district with 17,000 students, only 14% passed, for example.

What does it mean to be a safe district? For one thing, a safe district can shave two days off the school year while giving raises. That district’s teachers and students don’t have to start school in July or early August to maximize the amount of time students spend in school before the annual state test. The district can have a state website that says almost nothing except what’s legally required about testing. The impact of testing in District 34 can be minimized, because its students are succeeding in the testing game overall. That translates to free administrative time to plan and prepare all the bells and whistles that create an enriching school experience — spirit assemblies, whole child education, and differentiated instruction based on student needs.

District 34 still has to do all the required state and federal assessment, and is doing its own internal assessment as well, but its leaders can create a balanced school experience that lacks that sense of frantic desperation that can pervade our lowest scoring schools. In District 34, principals and teachers are not worried about losing their jobs because of test scores. They are free to worry about improving their students lives by preparing them for future educational opportunities, the traditional mission of educators.

Eduhonesty: I will say, we educators worry a lot regardless 🙂

  • Sites used are the following: and,
  • The article can be found in The North Shore Weekend, a JWC Media Publication

Lucky Lemmings on the Northshore

Zip code Neal

An unfortunate irony should be mentioned here. I live in a district with two superb high schools. Despite sometimes failing to hit NCLB test targets, Glenbrook North and Glenbrook South aren’t being hurt by their numbers like the schools in North Chicago, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other academically- and financially-disadvantaged areas. The Glenbrooks know the government won’t come after them: The embarrassment for state and federal education officials would be far too great. Even a cursory glance at the schools’ academic performance shows both to be among the best schools in the country. Like other fortunate schools, especially in wealthier parts of the country, the frantic, ongoing attempt to push up test scores does not impact these schools with the intensity that it impacts lower-performing schools.

Those fun elective classes that students most enjoy? Schools like the Glenbrooks commonly provide a wide variety of such electives, electives that are seldom being used for extra math minutes, English essay practice or their equivalents. The Glenbrooks must do test preparation, of course, but they know the state will not dissolve their school or take them over. They don’t have to put frantic energy into figuring out how to fix the numbers. They are “safe.”

I believe one effect of NCLB and the subsequent, laser-like focus on standardized tests has been that advantaged schools, those schools which in the past were able to provide more enrichment options and more fun afterschool activities than less prosperous counterparts, now are often providing proportionally even more enrichment and more fun options than their less wealthy counterparts.

In poor and urban schools, especially, the need to improve test scores may shove enrichment and school-spirit issues aside. North Chicago High School is trying frantically to improve test scores, despite an overall lack of resources. The high school recently stopped allowing students to start French and eliminated woodworking. No electives remain except NJROTC, fine arts and Spanish, and what music one music teacher can offer, along with Consumer Math and a few business courses. Fine arts and a foreign language are the two electives necessary for many college applications.  Currently, the staff directory lists one music/drama teacher, one business teacher, two NJROTC teachers,three foreign language teachers,and two fine arts teachers, one of whom recently left her position. Spanish has become the only language.* NJROTC has manages to stay in the game since students and administrators in financially-disadvantaged areas often see the military as a path out of poverty.

In the meantime, seventeen miles north, in a much larger and wealthier district, we find the following on the District 225 website:

To create a comprehensive high school experience, the Glenbrooks focus on three distinct areas: Academics, Athletics and Activities. Academic success is a top priority for our students and with almost 300 diverse course offerings, there is plenty of opportunity for exploration. In addition to core academic courses in the areas of English, mathematics, science, social studies, and world language; students may pursue special interest classes such as debate, architecture, automotives, and graphic design.

Glenbrook students enjoy success inside and outside of the classroom through numerous athletic and activities programs. The schools offer over 25 different competitive sports and a series of club sports to satisfy any athlete. Each school also hosts from 70-80 different clubs and activities for students throughout the year.

By the numbers:
  • 4,823  Students
  • 849 Employees
  • 40+ Different dialects
  • 25.3 Average ACT score
  • 96.8% Graduate rate
  • 96% Enter college post-graduation
  • 300 Course offerings
  • 70-80 Clubs and activities for students
  • 25+ Competitive sports
  • $110M Annual operating district budget
 I found the following on the District 225 website as well, under new courses proposed for 2014-2015:
In January, the Board of Education approved new courses recommended by the administration for the 2014-15 school year. Glenbrook North The Career and Life Skills department added a new series of Project Lead the Way (PLTW) courses, designed to meet the needs of students pursuing studies in engineering and technology-related career paths. Four honors courses have been recommended including: Intro to Engineering Design, Principles of Engineering, Civil Engineering and Architecture, and Engineering Design and Development. Glenbrook South The Applied Technology department added two honors PLTW courses to its existing engineering offerings, to complete the four-year sequence. Civil Engineering and Architecture will add an architectural component and Engineering Design and Development will serve upper classman as a capstone course. The business department added Investment Strategies, a course designed to help students develop wealth management, investing, and financial planning skills. The Physical Education department added Weight Training and Conditioning II. The Science department added Honors Physics and Astronomy 171, an option for students electing to earn honors credit.
I can scarcely begin to convey the differences between these two districts in a blog post. I would be typing for hours if I tried to list all the Glenbrook electives and clubs. I have a student/parent handbook from a few years ago with a curriculum guide that runs 24 pages.
Here is a sample (click to enlarge):
Here is another sample:FullSizeRender
 In the meantime, for all intents and purposes, I’d say that North Chicago High School barely has electives. If you don’t want Spanish, fine arts, NJROTC or classes with that one music/drama or business teacher, what can you “elect”? Woodworking used to be a student favorite, as was a radio/TV broadcasting class, but those classes are gone. You can still do radio/TV broadcasting, but not for credit.

Zip code should not be destiny, but anyone who thinks that zip code cannot become destiny has fallen down the delusional rabbit hole as far as I am concerned. Can students triumph over schools that do almost nothing except prepare them for an annual test? Yes, students from these schools go to universities sometimes and succeed. But those kids who live in a district with an average ACT score of 25.3 have a far greater chance of succeeding in college than the kids from a district that received an average ACT score of 15.6 in 2014. The ACT itself defines college readiness as a score around 21. (

A natural gut response to North Chicago’s 15.6 average ACT score might be to say, “That school has to raise scores!” Yes, it does. But cutting down electives in favor of more time on core academics may do more harm than good to North Chicago’s students. Those lower-scoring kids need classes that interest them. Some of them might love to take Astronomy, Intro to Engineering Design or Investment Strategies. That 15.6 average tells a backstory, one with many apathetic and lost bodies occupying classroom desks.

First, you have to care. If students can be convinced to care about the academics in which they are immersed, higher scores will follow. If they don’t care,  three hours of mathematics may not do much more good than a single hour. Learning is never a passive activity. Engagement will always be a key piece. Content and student areas of interest directly affect student engagement.

When the whole focus of instruction becomes the test, the test, the test, what hook do we have to pull students into the fun of learning? What motivation are we providing for paying attention and participating in class? What motivation are we providing for going on to college?

Many kids in our least financially-advantaged districts do not know what college is like, or what college can be like. I once had a high school student say to me, “No way am I going to college. No way will I sit through four more years of social studies.” We try to explain college at college fairs, but the only experience some kids can use to understand college is the high school education they are presently receiving. Especially in this time of sometimes incomprehensible, mandatory, lock-step, Common Core lessons, I can certainly see why kids might say, “Nope, I’m not going to college. I am done with this stuff.”

*A quick acid test of a district’s schools for people who might be moving: What languages does that district high school offer? Scratch any districts that only offer Spanish off the list immediately. I’d consider three languages to be a minimum. A commitment to diverse learning opportunities can be captured in a snapshot of language learning options. The Glenbrooks offer Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Latin, Spanish, French and Hebrew, for example.

“Denise” and the Boundary Violation


So here I am again, learning about bloodborne pathogens for the umpteenth time. Every year, I relearn that a vaccine exists for Hepatitis B but not Hepatitis C. Every year, they tell me to put on my gloves and sterilize the dust pan. The information might prove useful and insisting that teachers regularly review the dangers of bodily fluids makes perfect sense.

I have other online modules to complete. I have finished diabetes, ADHD/ADD, suicide prevention and ethics and boundaries for school employees. The last module made me feel wistful and a trifle sad. The gist of the module appeared to be that almost all exchanges between a student and teacher ought to remain impersonal. No favoritism should be shown to any student. Teachers should not allow themselves to be alone with students. The module did allow that a coach could contact players to let them know a game time had changed, but suggested emails and other electronic communications to students ought to be cc’d to administrators.

This teaching module reeked of correctness as it laid out a set of rules spawned by our litigious times. I can’t fault the module. These are scary times. People sue Starbucks for drinks that are one ounce short, instead of asking the barista to please fill the cup.

But I thought of Denise. Denise came for afterschool tutoring when I taught her mathematics a few years back. That meant Denise was seeing me much more regularly than other students, since Denise was working hard to catch up on her math. That was my first boundary violation. We often closed the door to the classroom. That quieted the room and we could put on music, eat snacks and relax while we worked. With the door open, random students might walk in to request pretzels. So the door was closed, my second boundary violation. Anyone was welcome to walk in, study math and eat pretzels, of course. It’s entirely possible that (horror!) at some point I hugged the poor girl when she did a great job on a test or quiz retake. I’m no creeper and have zero interest in middle school girls, but I can be enthusiastic about great student efforts. That would have been a whopper of a boundary violation and I cannot say I did not commit that egregious transgression.

Issues of boundaries shut down tutoring in the winter. As it darkened earlier, Denise’s mom did not want her to walk home. Both she and her sister had been attacked on that route previously. I was not allowed to drive students. The school was fierce on that particular boundary violation. I tried walking her but, frankly, I felt unsafe on the walk back.

I felt wistful during that ethics and boundaries module because I know that twenty years earlier, I could simply have driven Denise home. I wonder how many students in tough areas are foregoing tutoring because they have to get home before dark? Poor districts often do not have the money for activity or late busses. Kids in those districts may have no option except to leave when the school day ends, despite a desperate need for remediation, too much remediation to receive during the school day.

Eduhonesty: Many, many students in America today require more than 7 hours of 180 days of education in a school year. In some areas, days and years ought to be extended to meet those needs. Buses should be available for students who stay late. If the federal government wanted to do something useful for a change, our leaders might allocate funds for late buses, allowing formal or informal extension of the school day.

In the meantime, I have committed a number of boundary violations and I will commit more. I wish someone would trust my common sense. With a few boys, and one girl, I have left the door open or even met in the library. I don’t drive students home. (Sigh.) But if I email students to cancel afterschool tutoring, I am not going to CC the administration. They have enough to do without tracking my every move.

As the Lemmings Brains Turn to Mush

IMG_0792Admittedly, sorting out wishful thinking, make believe, and truth in the pile of facts and factoids presented to us is a daunting task. We have too much information and not enough time to evaluate that information. Politicians and bureaucrats may focus on the many, many schools that have become attics where we cram children who have the misfortune to live in the wrong zip code. The failures in those zip codes glare at us from the pages of mandatory state reports on school performance. The desire to fix those failures naturally results in desperate measures.

Nevertheless, our nation’s political and academic leaders seem to be missing a few critical pieces of the puzzle: In particular, testing is a two-edged sword, and I have begun to fear we are slaying more students than dragons.  Let’s look at the composite PARCC test* scores for Illinois for 2014.

(Click to enlarge.)PARCC

Yellow and orange represent the students who did not make targets. The PARCC people nicely informed all those students that they had failed, too. It appears more Asian students passed than failed. Of all the subgroups tested, Asians are the ONLY group who passed overall — but many fails obviously exist in this category as well.

We clobbered these kids, especially all the kids in the orange bars. That’s important. Forgive the sarcasm but our educational leaders sure made a lot of kids feel like they were doing well in school. Those leaders sure made a lot of kids believe they were college-material.

If America’s government and school leaders can’t see the likely effect of this test, I can see it clearly. The first time I asked a student why a quiz had gone wrong and got the answer, “I’m just dumb, Ms. Q,” I was horrified. Now, I understand too well where my students are coming from. All they have to do in many cases will be to look at their PARCC results to confirm this congealing self-image.

As I said in a previous post, I spent the whole of my last year working on resiliency as I gave nonstop, mandatory, Common-Core based tests and quizzes.

Here’s the other critical piece our leaders miss:

We spend an enormous amount of time getting these kids ready for the test that will hammer them like Jack Torrance with his roque mallet in “The Shining.” Thwack, thwack, some bloodied students keep trying to climb the stairs to safety. Other just lay down to wait for the blows. Some schools spend the whole year getting ready for that test, over and over again. .


*An annual state test used by a number of states based on the Common Core. If the PARCC Consortium had let me or any number of teachers take that test before they rolled it out nationally, I could have predicted these test results. Some states are quickly backing away from the Core and/or the PARCC test. My guess is others do not want to admit how badly they screwed up this decision that impacted all the students in their state.

“At least, they did not blame me, not after the first month anyway.”


This line from a previous post deserves to be spotlighted.

“At least, they did not blame me, not after the first month anyway.”

That month was a doozy, though. Rocky start does not begin to describe the year of identical tests and quizzes, the year when my students saw almost nothing except material set four years above those students’ average academic operating levels. How about “Mutiny in the Bilingual Class” as a title for September? Not to mention August and part of October.

My students took awhile to understand that the replacement of their beloved principal with the Hired Gun from Texas came with more changes than just the body in the principal’s office. Suddenly, they had been put on a schedule filled with math they had never seen before, a schedule that quickly began culminating in weekly quizzes they could not understand. Suddenly, unit tests that no bilingual student ever passed became a regular feature of the year’s instruction, along with MAP and AIMSWEB benchmark tests.

Most years teachers get a honeymoon period, a few weeks of exceptionally good behavior and attention as students settle into their new classes after the summer break. The Year of Endless Incomprehensible Quizzes had no such honeymoon, however. My students turned angry quickly. Behavior became challenging almost from the start. They blamed me.

I was the teacher. I was the person at the head of the class. I was the person handing out the quizzes. They assumed I must have some control of my job and, if so, they concluded I must be an especially mean person. What do thirteen-year-old kids do when they think someone is being mean to them? They act mean back. They were often snotty, rude and overtly disrespectful during those first few weeks.  I kept having to manage behaviors that I secretly understood. I’d have acted out, too, in their place.

As the year wore on, I got my class back. By October, we were mostly a team working together. By October, they had figured out that I had almost no control over what was happening and that I could not refuse to give them all those crazy tests and quizzes.. By October, they were clear that I was doing my damndest to help them out despite regular interventions by the Assistant Principal and others. By October, they understood that I wanted to be their advocate, but I was trapped. No one was listening to me.

Whatever I said, all I would hear back was, “No excuses!”

Eduhonesty: I miss teaching and the kids, but I am so, so, so glad I retired.

And while I promise readers I would never personally take the path of violence, if a couple of former administrators stepped out into the road in front of oncoming traffic, I would not waste a single minute mourning them. I’m not sure the universe would be a better place without them, but I’m not sure it would be a worse one either.

People that stupid should never be given control of other people’s lives.


Yada, Yada, Yada and Help Me Jesus

IMG_1483My post’s title ought to be “Reining in the tests” or something like that, but who wants to read about more tests? Like death, taxes, politics and other forever-topics that somehow never seem to come out right, testing has become a quiet thrum in the background of daily life, one that sounds faintly unpleasant and spurs a desire for distraction.

The testing octopus has long, sticky tentacles, but our students and teachers have been trussed up in those tentacles for so long that the drama of their capture is now old news. In America, old news too often becomes non-news. We were outraged at the lead levels in Flint, Michigan last year. Will we be as outraged in a few years when the long-term effects of those lead levels begin to impact our schools?

Americans today are assaulted with bad news. We grapple with Flint, bankrupt Chicago schools, major storms, terrorist trucks in France, college costs, Ebola and Zika outbreaks, global warming, an erratic stock market and suspicious Chinese puppy treats, all part of a nonstop feed from our phones and computers, a nonstop info-barrage that dulls normal reactions to real problems. Humans are only built to sustain so much outrage. Then we tend to look for the chocolate and check the DVR.

Nevertheless, I can’t keep whining without suggesting policy changes. In particular, our schools need to cap total testing days. Total testing days in America’s schools border on absurd. Government requirements vary from state to state, but any requirements that result in more than a week of standardized and benchmark testing should be adapted or repealed. If state governments want to do something useful for a change, they might pass laws capping testing days.

This has to stop. We must assess student progress, but administrators and bureaucrats also need to remember that every assessment represents one more missed teaching opportunity. Our assessments may be wearing out many students, too.  I vividly remember one Monday morning after PARCC® testing. We had finished PARCC®, but I was expected to give a math unit test that day. I pulled out the bubble test sheets, each with its student’s name at the top. I pulled out extra number two pencils. As I started to pass out the test, students stared at me, some in apparent disbelief.

“ANOTHER TEST!!?” A girl wailed loudly. “WHY??!”

“I DON’T KNOW!” I almost shrieked. That silenced the class. I had gotten pretty close to some personal breaking point at that moment, and the class sensed this.

After a brief pause, I continued quietly.

“We have to do this. It’s required. All the math classes have to do it. Somebody wants the data. Don’t worry about it. Do the best you can. It won’t hurt your grade, I promise.”

I kept passing out those tests and answer sheets, wasting one more hour of our precious time. I knew in advance that my students could not pass the test I was handing out. I was keeping a number of them afloat with extra Saturday morning tutoring (unpaid, and I drove an hour to do it) that enabled some to pass the weekly quizzes, but no one ever had or would pass a unit test to my knowledge. If anyone did, I’d put that success down to luck picking bubbles on the front part of the test, a lottery win of sorts. Did anyone all year get full points on a single short-answer problem? Maybe not. I just kept putting zeros beside those short-answer problems with a rare, partial credit “+1” here and there. Fortunately, I did not have to hand the unit tests back to the kids. I handed them to academic coaches who took the tests to an upstairs nook where the bubble portions of the tests were graded and the final data recorded.

Every “unit test” hour was wasted time in my view. Our own benchmark tests showed those tests were at least three years above most students’ level of understanding. Reading difficulties for bilingual and special education students contributed to the debacle of those unit tests. I’m not sure if translation was allowed – I asked and got a wishy-washy answer, and then decided not to pursue the matter further for fear someone would give me the wrong answer – but sometimes I would help with reading those tests. I know the special education teacher did too.

I remember a professional development meeting where a speaker said one of those truths that stick with you.

“You should always go over any quiz or test that you give. If you don’t, you should be ashamed.” He looked angry at the thought of even skipping that last step.

But we never went over those unit tests. We had too much other mandatory material to cover and too many other weekly quizzes to go over. Besides, the grading was being done by coaches who were sometimes behind. Going over a test or quiz weeks later provides little benefit. Going over quizzes that everybody failed because they could not understand the test provides little benefit –unless you have a fairly large chunk of time that can be used for remediation and explanation. Given the test and quiz schedule, I did not have enough time to teach what had to be taught, much less to provide that remediation.

As the Lemmings Drown

Technically, we don’t let our students quit until high school, but I know from experience that some middle-school students quit long before high school – even if their bodies are still occupying school desks. If I am lucky, I can adapt my grading, and I have done so when allowed, so that hard effort results in decent grades. I’m only one teacher, though, and I only have so much control over grading. Unfortunately for the student below, Jesus has no control, or at least is staying out of the fray..


During two years, I worked at schools that introduced “differentiated grading,.1 virtually eliminating homework and behavior from the grading system. Grades were based on tests, projects and quizzes and no zeroes were allowed. If a project was not turned in, that project became a “50%” in the gradebook. If a student received 30% on a test, that test became 50%.
In my time teaching, I have seen grading systems come and go regularly. Regardless, when the content I am forced to teach falls too far outside my students understanding and level of academic mastery, differentiated grading and other grading systems function poorly.

The ultimate absurdity of my last teaching year came when the special education teacher and I (bilingual) were forced to invent extra tests and quizzes to get our students above passing. Required tests and quizzes were already sucking up around one-fifth of the school year. But we had to create more assignments in the testing category. What happens when an inflexible set of tests and quizzes based on 7th grade Common Core Standards attack a classroom of students whose document MAP® levels of mathematical mastery put them at an average 3rd grade level? What happens in a system where administration requires the school’s grading program to base final grades 100% on tests, quizzes and projects? When daily work cannot be factored in? When behavior becomes an irrelevancy in the grading process?

If you want kids to pass, you have to make sure you create extra tests and quizzes that they are actually able to pass. At a lunch with a former colleague, we were describing our extra tests and quizzes and we were all laughing. The idea was so absurd. I can’t imagine what the kids thought. I explained why we needed the extra tests and quizzes, and they understood.

But if I’d been a kid in that class, I’d have felt like I’d fallen down the rabbit hole in Alice in Wonderland. I’d have been waiting for the Queen of Hearts to pop in and shout, “Off with their heads!” I’d have suspected my teacher of eating the mushrooms.

At least, they did not blame me, not after the first month anyway. They knew I was trying to keep everyone in the game as best I could. They helped when they could. I had volunteer peer tutors, just not enough tutors who actually knew the week’s math.

Could we please hand education back to the classroom teacher? Top-down management is not working. Too much of what is coming down from our system of top-down management seems to be “uncommon nonsense,” to quote Alice.

[1] A term particularly associated with Rick Wormeli, as well-known educator/researcher. While I dislike putting the grade floor up near 50% due to its potential to create last-minute schlock efforts, many of Rick Wormeli’s arguments about mastery-based grading positively ooze common sense, at least if we want to graduate students who understand class content. The 50% floor proceeds from the idea that “0” grades distort the grading scale. Assignments that are not turned in become fails at 50%, rather than 0%, thus impacting averages less. This allows students to get back into the game when they are failing since students can turn in assignments and redo work that gets them back above passing rather easily. I suggest looking up Wormeli’s thoughts on grading.