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Students Talk About Standardized Testing


By Sandra Barnstead

Teachers and education policymakers are on the same page when it comes to our mission. We know that public education is all about fostering the hopes, dreams and unfulfilled potential of our young people. It’s about preparing for the future, both for our students and for our nation.

Where we seem to disagree is on the process for accomplishing that mission.

In many Virginia school divisions, students must take at least eight standardized tests every year, not including the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. Add the SOL tests and that figure can reach a dozen. That equates to a loss of nearly two months of valuable learning time. (In addition, most of these standardized tests do nothing to increase student achievement.) 
 
WHY DON'T WE ASK THEM?

How do our students, the test-takers, feel about all this testing? They’re the largest group affected, but seem to be listened to the least.

After a bout with SOL tests at the end of last school year, I surveyed 81seventh- and eighth-grade students. Most of them had just completed either Algebra I or geometry, putting them one to two years ahead of their peers, and about 90 percent expected to receive an A or a B in the course.

More than half of the students agreed that their scores on the SOL test did not truly reflect their knowledge of the subject, adding comments such as these: “SOLs have turned from a test of your knowledge to a test geared on failing you”; “the test this year had more challenge than most years, but still kept to the same 60 questions, which really wore me down, so the questions at the end I probably missed”; and “I understand it, but my focus was wavering on the test.”

Most students now believe that standardized testing is the only important thing that happens in schools, which helps explain why 75 percent of those surveyed agreed with the following statement: I expect that after the SOL test is completed for a course that I am done learning and my teacher should stop teaching.

The biggest problem for many educators is the loss of instructional time because of testing. Students recognize this and had things like this to say:

>“I cannot get my materials for classes while others are testing. In some of my classes we have not been able to do anything because of testing”;

>“I am behind in some classes that I missed because I was testing”;

>“I didn’t go to any classes this morning because of testing”;

>“My teachers haven’t been in their regular classrooms, so they haven’t been able to do all that they planned or need to do.”

Other students offered this about the disruption to their schedule:  I miss Latin” and “I miss a lot of classes that I enjoy.”

When asked to explain how standardized testing affects their learning, students shared these statements:

>“We can’t learn from them because we never see the test again or the answers that we missed and the teachers can’t go over it and teach us from our mistakes”;

>“I think it keeps us from going in-depth into topics because we have to learn such a wide variety of things for the SOLs”;

>“It has made the school year stressful and limits the teachers’ creativity because the teachers have to base their lesson strictly on the curriculum.”; and

>“Teachers teach only to the test.

It restricts them from teaching other things that they find interesting or reasonable.”

What these results say to me is that students can and do enjoy learning, and they know they’re missing out on some. They recognize that there is more to learning than what’s in the book or on the curriculum map. What we’re accomplishing with this focus on standardized testing is not an increase in student achievement, but a decrease in meaningful and effective learning experiences.

Fixing this problem will take more than writing a policy, setting up a program, or creating a different test. Part of the answer is teamwork, problem-solving, and listening - not more testing and policies. Policymakers need to listen to educators about student learning. Effective educators are problem-solvers and efficient decision-makers. We are trained to teach, inspire and educate, so why not listen to us when it comes to our craft?

Barnstead, a middle school math teacher, is vice president of the Spotsylvania Education Association.



Putting the Cards on the Table
About Bullying

Michael Seaman, a middle school English teacher in New Jersey, tackles the issue of bullying head-on in his classroom. Near the beginning of the school year, he asks his students to answer the following six questions and to do so anonymously so they’ll be completely honest. Their responses become an excellent springboard to discussion.

1. Do you think bullying is a serious problem in your school or community? Why or why not?

2. How do you think bullies feel when they demean someone else?

3. Do you think it’s possible to make a bully understand other people’s feelings? Why or why not?

4. How do adults in your school community address bullying? What interventions have you seen adults use to prevent or stop bullying?

5. What interventions can young people use to prevent or stop bullying?

6. Do you think you’ve ever bullied someone? If so, what made you stop? What made you want to bully someone again?

Seaman reports, in NJEA Review, the magazine of the New Jersey Education Association, that he “was most surprised by the students’ answers to numbers one, four and six. Almost every student felt that bullying is not a serious problem in our school because we have a bullying protection program. Ironically, a large percentage of the same students admitted to bullying behavior in number six and explained that anger and frustration were the causes of that behavior. Fear of retribution, as many students explained, was a popular reason why they stopped their bullying behavior. Shockingly, almost every student admitted to witnessing an adult figure turn his or her head instead of addressing the bullying situation.”


Retired Teacher Appears
as Abraham Lincoln

Tom Scott, a retired Virginia teacher, bears an impressive resemblance to our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln—and when he adds a few wardrobe touches, you and your students can quickly be back in the 19th century.

Scott has done extensive research on Lincoln and is available to speak or answer questions about such topics as Abe’s wit and wisdom, his political genius, the Emancipation Proclamation and other aspects of the life of one of our greatest leaders.

Scott is Richmond-based and can be contacted at (804) 335-4220 or tomscott705@gmail.com.


A Little Help From
Your Friends

Looking for a fresh way to present material to your students? Who would be better prepared to help you than your colleagues? That’s the thinking behind the website Teachers Pay Teachers, which allows you to buy and sell lesson plans created by fellow educators.

Founded in 2006, Teachers Pay Teachers offers the opportunity for open sharing among teachers everywhere. Most materials cost less than $5 and there are thousands of items that can be downloaded at no cost, including PowerPoint presentations, videos, lesson plans and more. You can browse the site by grade level, subject, type of resource, and price. And, in addition to being a resource for teachers looking for new ideas, the site can also be a place for you to post and sell classroom materials you’ve created.

To learn more, go to www.TeachersPayTeachers.com.



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Why Social Networking Could Work for You


Here are seven reasons social networking tools can be useful in the classroom:


1. They foster engagement. Using social media and networking tools obviously has a social aspect to it, and it requires proactive effort on the part of the user. In other words, using these tools to communicate and interact requires a student’s active engagement.

2. They encourage social learning. Bandura’s Social Learning Theory posits that “people learn from one another, via observation, imitation and modeling.” Of course, the type of socialization that occurs via “social” computer tools is certainly different than face-to-face social interaction, but it still offers opportunities for social learning.

3. You can use time outside of class better, so you can make better use of class time. Social learning tools also position instructors to deliver content outside of the classroom, and then “flip” the classroom – working on what would have been homework during class sometimes.

4. They provide opportunities for writing and writing assessment. While tools like Twitter lend themselves to abbreviated “texting” style uses of language, there is no need for this in most other forums. Teachers can choose to include grading of writing quality as part of the rubrics they develop for grading social media-based assignments and class work.

5. They encourage dialogue, reaching more students. It’s social! “Let’s talk!” Anything that can draw out reluctant teens and pre-teens is a good thing when the goal is to communicate. One clear advantage of socializing across the Internet is that it is seen as less intimidating than face-to-face contact, and can allow shy students to express themselves more comfortably.

6. They help students get ahead of the professional curve. Social media is becoming more important to business with each passing year. Many organizations have moved from just discussing “social media awareness” and “social marketing” to including social media business planning as part of their efforts. An increasing number of professional positions desire or require social media awareness, and it seems likely that more positions will call for this skill in the future.

7. They build connections. Using social networking tools to deliver social learning experiences in the classroom provides opportunities to meet other students and have access (depending on the tools being used) to other educators and professionals. Maintaining connections and communicating with these new colleagues has never been easier, thanks to these Internet-based applications.

 --by Kelly Walsh, of www.EmergingEdTech.com

 


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